Recently, the FDA has made rumblings about legitimizing the use of cloned animals in our food chain. Hopefully, these coming policy changes will start a conversation around the United States about the cost of our food. People from the Associated Press and our own BNN have thrown down very good articles covering the economic status of these future changes. To each of them I give kudos for their industrious coverage of the facts.

However, I feel that a major part of the puzzle has been left uncovered for the average American and I wish to delve into that now. Is our continued reliance on the meat industry for a large part our daily diets good for the world around us? Is it cost effective in the long run for us to continue have meat be a main stay of our daily consumption?

I, for one, am not so sure and I am not alone. To place this in context, I’m not a vegetarian and I thoroughly enjoy eating meat. But I question the viability of this process. How much land, food, water, and energy are we funneling into the meat industry? And can we continue to do this while the population of the world continues to increase at amazing speed?

According to some rather fundamentalist veggie-ists out there it takes fifty times as much water to produce one pound of beef than it does to produce one pound of potatoes. The scientist in me baulks at these statements, as I do not place the potato in the same category as a beef steak. For two reasons, one — its not meat and two — potatoes have less protein than beef.

I have decided to come up with my own comparison to see if I can better rationalize my beef eating ways. What if we compared the amount that you can get from soybeans (lots more protein and has been made into all sorts of meat-like things) to what you get from beef?

For a second let us pretend that we all know that cows eat a lot of food to grow big and strong. While soybeans are planted in the ground and grow from the sun, water, and air. This makes me question something: How many soybeans does it take to make up for one cow? According to different academic agriculture sources (including Penn State and Utah State) the amount of food for each cow is somewhere between 10-20lbs of food per day (for two or more years) and will cost about $200 per cow per year.

It costs somewhere between $2-8 dollars to produce a bushel of soybeans (that’s roughly 50lbs for us none bushel using people), depending on your location. The average cow gives us roughly 500lbs of human edible food stuffs. Run those numbers.

That’s right. It costs about fifteen cents to produce a pound of soybeans which can then be eaten but it costs about $2.5 to produce a pound a beef. That doesn’t include processing, transportation, or waste costs. Plus the cows are eating a large amount of the food that we are producing.

With the growing population of the globe can we all afford to continue eating meat?

I, for one, am not ready to stop enjoying steaks and hamburgers.  But I fear the day of rationing, as in novels by Robert Heinlein are not far away.  Would we really give up strawberries and cream to keep hamburgers?

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