Why Do We Have Livestock At All?
Don't they just eat the food that
would be better utilized
by being given directly to people.
Agricultural animals have always made a major contribution
to the welfare of human societies by providing food, shelter, fuel, fertilizer and other products and services. They are a
renewable resource, and utilize another renewable resource, plants, to produce these products and services. In addition, the
manure produced by the animals helps improve soil fertility and, thus, aids the plants. In some developing countries the manure
cannot be utilized as a fertilizer but is dried as a source of fuel.
Food is, by far, the most important contribution of agricultural
animal, although they rank well behind plants in total quantity of food supplied. Plants supply over 80 percent of the total
calories consumed in the world. Animals are a more important source of protein than they are of calories, supplying one-third
of the protein consumed in the world. Meat, milk and fish are about equal sources of animal protein, supplying, respectively,
35%, 34% and 27% of the world supply of total protein.
There are many who feel that because the world population
is growing at a faster rate than is the food supply, we are becoming less and less able to afford animal foods because feeding
plant products to animals is an inefficient use of potential human food.
It is true that it is more efficient for humans to eat
plant products directly rather than to allow animals to convert them to human food. At best, animals only produce one pound
or less of human food for each three pounds of plants eaten.
However, this inefficiency only applies
to those plants and plant products that the human can utilize.
The fact is that over two-thirds of the feed
fed to animals consists of substances that are either undesirable or completely unsuited for human food. Thus, by their ability
to convert inedible plant materials to human food, animals not only do not compete with humans, rather they aid greatly
in improving both the quantity and the quality of the diets of human societies.