Fish versus Beef

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When it comes to choosing between popular sources of protein, the world has a surprising preference.

Today, there is more farmed fish produced than there is beef. This is the first time this has occurred in the modern history of our world. How and why did this happen?

Our ancestors caught the wild fish they ate, and they hunted for their meat. Today we buy our fish and beef at the market. In the second half of the 20th century, beef production boomed; however, by the late 1980’s it was slowing.

In 1950, annual beef production was 19 million tons, and by the late 1980’s it had boomed to more than 50 million tons. During that same period, the quantity of wild fish caught went from 17 million tons to 90 million tons. Since then, however, the wild fish catch has remained flat, and beef production has significantly slowed.

In 2011, a milestone was reached when farmed fish production topped the production of beef. By 2012, that gap became even wider. Aquaculture, which is fish farming, reached a record output of 66 million tons, which was greater than the 63 million tons of beef that was produced. 2013 could be the first year where fish consumption of farmed fish exceeds wild fish.

During the latter part of the 20th century, global demand for animal protein grew by as much as fivefold, putting immense pressure on available resources, which were already beyond capacity. That meant the only way to increase production was through fish farms and feedlots.

On the other hand, soybean and grain prices have continued to increase, which has led to an increase in the cost of raising cattle to a point far above historical levels. Ironically, raising farmed fish is very efficient. It takes less than two pounds of feed to add a pound of weight to the fish, whereas it takes at least seven pounds of grain for every pound of beef.

In the United States, people are consuming less animal protein in general, but the rate of change has varied greatly from one protein to another. Beef consumption per person has dropped an average of 13 percent and chicken consumption has fallen by 5 percent, while fish consumption has decreased by just 2 percent.

With the global population of 7 billion growing by almost 80 million people per year, the limits on natural resources cannot be escaped. A considerable amount of thinking has therefore gone into today’s fish and beef production priorities. We are beginning to recognize that the time to respect nature’s supply limitations has arrived.

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