Greedy or Needy? Land use and climate impacts of food production in 2050 under different potential livestock futures

Bojana Bajželj, Tara Garnett, David Little, Mikaela Patel, Elin Röös, Peter Smith

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197 Citations (Scopus)
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Both supply and demand side changes are necessary to achieve a sustainable food system. However, the weight accorded to these depends on one’s view of what the priority goals are for the food system and the extent to which production systems versus consumption patterns are open to change. Some stakeholders see the problem as one of ‘not enough food’ and focus on the need to sustainably increase supply, while others consider the resource demanding and ‘greedy’ consumption patterns of the Western world as the main problem and emphasize the need to shift diets. In this study global land use and greenhouse gas emissions are estimated for a set of scenarios, building on four ‘livestock futures’ reflecting these different perspectives. These scenarios are: further intensification of livestock systems; a transition to plant-based eating; a move towards artificial meat and dairy; and a future in which livestock production is restricted to the use of ‘ecological leftovers’ i.e. grass from pastures, food waste and food and agricultural byproducts. Two dietary variants for each scenario are modelled: 1) a projected diet following current trends and 2) a healthy diet with more fruits and vegetables and fewer animal products, vegetable oils and sugar. Livestock production in all scenarios (except the baseline scenario) was assumed to intensify to current levels of intensive production in North-Western Europe. For each scenario, several variant assumptions about yield increases and waste reductions were modelled. Results show that without improvements in crop productivity or reductions on today’s waste levels available cropland will only suffice if production of all protein currently supplied by animal foods is replaced by (hypothetical) artificial variants not requiring any land. With livestock intensities corresponding to current ones in North-Western Europe and with yield gaps closed by 50% and waste reduced by 50%, available cropland will suffice for all scenarios that include a reduction of animal products and/or a transition to poultry or aquaculture. However, in the scenario based on an extrapolation of current consumption patterns (animal product amounts and types consumed in proportions corresponding to the current average consumption in different world regions) and with livestock production based on feed from cropland, available cropland will not be enough. The scenario that makes use of pastures for ruminant production and food waste for pigs, uses considerably less cropland and could provide 40-56 kg per capita per year of red meat. However, such a livestock future would not reduce GHG emissions from agriculture on current levels. This study confirms previous research that to achieve a sustainable food future, action is needed on all fronts;
improved supply and reduced demand and waste.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-12
Number of pages12
JournalGlobal Environmental Change
Early online date19 Sept 2017
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2017

Bibliographical note

Our thanks to the Future Agriculture initiative at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU) for funding the development of the model used to perform the calculations. The input of PS contributes to the Belmont Forum/FACCE-JPI-funded DEVIL project (NE/M021327/1).


  • land use
  • climate
  • food
  • dietary change
  • mitigation
  • protein


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