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Food For Thought

Where is the world’s food produced — and what are its effects on the global population?

November 27, 2003

Where is the world's food produced — and what are its effects on the global population?

Going to the supermarket in developed countries these days has become a much harder task because of all the food choices available to us. Lost in all of this is this question: Where does all this food come from — and where is it actually produced? In this Globalist Factsheet, based primarily on Lester Brown's new book “Plan B,” we take a look at global food production.

How has world grain production changed over the years?

The world production of grain climbed from 250 kilograms per person in 1950 to its historical high of 344 kg in 1984. By 2002, it had fallen to 290 kg per person — the lowest level in 26 years.

Which countries supply the world’s grain exports?

As of 2003, just six countries — Australia, Argentina, Canada, France, Thailand and the United States — supply 90% of the world's grain exports.

What happens to countries that are not able to grow enough grain?

More than 100 countries now import grain. As of 2003, Egypt relied on imports for 40% of its grain supply. For Algeria, Japan and Taiwan it is 70%. For Israel and Yemen, 90%.

How important is grain to the human diet?

On average, grain accounts for half the calories humans consume directly and a sizable part of the remainder through eating grain-fed animal products.

How much grain does a country the size of India consume?

In 2003, India will consume nearly 200 million tons of grain–roughly 200 kg or a bit over a pound a day. Little is available for feeding to livestock and poultry.

What portion of world grain production goes to feeding animals for human consumption?

As of 2003, it takes 37% of the world's grain harvest — nearly 700 million tons out of 1.818 billion — to produce animal protein for human consumption.

How much grain does it take to feed these animals?

It takes roughly 7 kg of grain to produce 1 kg of weight gain for cattle in the feedlot . For poultry, the figure is 2 kg of grain per kilogram of weight gain.

Which animals do we eat the most?

In 1979, world pork production, half of it in China, overtook beef production. In 1995, poultry also surpassed world beef production.

Why do some people prefer not to eat meat?

As of 2003, health spending per person in Italy is far less than in the United States – but Italians live longer because they consume less meat and more fresh fruits and vegetables.

How has soybean agriculture developed in the United States?

With soybean production exploding after World War II, the U.S. harvested area of soybeans first overtook that of wheat in 1973 – and that of corn in 1999.

Who leads the world in soybean production?

As of 2002, the United States accounts for 43% of the world's soybean harvest. Brazil produces 24% and Argentina, 16%.

Where does the bulk of the world's farmed seafood come from?

As of 2003, China accounts for two-thirds of the world’s fish farm output.

What about milk?

In 1997, India overtook the United States to become the world's leading milk producer.

How much milk does India produce?

Between 1961 and 2002, India's milk production per person increased from 0.9 liters per week to 1.6 liters — equivalent to one cup of milk a day for each person.