The longer I work in the pig business, the more I am convinced that meat eventually is destined to become a luxury product.
I've long been hesitant to write about this, as it may not be the message the pig industry wishes to hear. In many countries all around the globe, achieving a situation of safe and affordable food for everyone is a goal in itself.
It's all based on all the input I hear about the year 2050. Frequently, speakers refer to the 9.2 billion people which are estimated to populate the world, who all wish to have their daily portion of food. In addition, these speakers point to an anticipated per-capita increase in wealth, which will lead to a growth in demand for animal protein per person. These speakers usually express the need for more feed and food in the amount of extra Earth planets that would be needed by 2050.
Fortunately, there is technological progress, many speakers emphasise. Better genetics, more biosecurity, improved management practices, use of genetically modified organisms, top-class animal health care, optimised trade flows and innovative sources of feed are just a few areas mentioned to show in which direction developments can go to meet the higher animal protein demand by 2050.
I have no doubt a lot can be improved – and that in theory, by finding many new areas for crop cultivation, by modernising existing farms and building many new and modern ones, as well as feed mills and slaughterplants, this goal could be met.
In practice, however, there's a lot more going on in this world than just animal production. The additional 2.2 billion people will also have to live somewhere, preferably there where they do not smell a pig farm or a poultry processing plant in the vicinity. They will have to breathe, to work and to eat every day, and those who have an increase in wealth will even love to have a bit more area around their house. They will like to travel, to drive one or more vehicles, they will all like to enjoy holidays, see scenery, go on safari and so on. So the tigers and rhinos will have to live somewhere too.
I think you get my point.
Now let's zoom in on where the public opinion is going in Europe, Northern America and Australia. Amongst those considering themselves to be progressive, themes like 'animal welfare', 'the environment', 'antibiotic-free', 'organic', 'authenticity', 'sustainability', 'local', and 'slow food' are all themes that do very well. And quite frankly, pig production indeed is moving into a more animal-friendly and more environmentally-friendly direction. The result? Often higher costs of production and/or more area needed.
I choose not to be in favour or against any of these developments. I just happen to see that what is perceived to be the future for animal farming in the developed world appears to be the reverse of what would be needed to reach our 2050 goals. With more extensive animal production, the challenge of feeding everybody animal proteins by 2050 only becomes bigger... As if the challenge wasn't large enough already!
I just think we have all been emphasising the supply side too much, when the real issue is the demand side. Assuming that indeed 9.2 billion people will populate Planet Earth, it looks fair to me to shift the paradigm... It's not animal proteins we need to provide for all of them – it's whatever source of protein. It seems likely that those protein sources which grow quickest and cheapest will eventually form the staple food of the future.
Where does this leave pork and other types of meat? As safe but probably not so affordable alternatives.