Agriculture, Food and Beverage

How climate change impacts food supply chains, and what this means for consumers 

The impact of climate change on meat supply chains is undeniable

The impact of climate change on meat supply chains is undeniable Image: Reuters/Benoit Tessier

Niyati Gupta
Chief Executive Officer and Co-Founder, Fork and Good
Share:
Our Impact
What's the World Economic Forum doing to accelerate action on Agriculture, Food and Beverage?
The Big Picture
Explore and monitor how Agriculture, Food and Beverage is affecting economies, industries and global issues
A hand holding a looking glass by a lake
Crowdsource Innovation
Get involved with our crowdsourced digital platform to deliver impact at scale
Stay up to date:

Agriculture, Food and Beverage

This article is part of: Centre for Nature and Climate
  • Livestock is behind about 15% of global greenhouse gas emissions and the food system threatens to impact efforts to tackle climate change.
  • But global demand for meat shows little signs of easing, with consumption rising in many parts of the world where incomes are also increasing.
  • Here's how new technologies can play an important role in creating more robust, sustainable and affordable food production ecosystems.

“Remember hamburger chains, always real beef, remember hot-dog stands?” Twenty years ago, Margaret Atwood imagined a dystopian future where meat products became a luxury again. Two decades from now you may be saving up your pay cheque and making reservations to eat a rare burger the price of gold or choose to relegate it to nostalgia.

Have you read?

At COP28, food was a key tenet of the COP28 agenda for the first time because livestock accounts for about 15% of global greenhouse emissions, the second largest contributor after energy for our homes. If current trends for food demand and production continue, emissions from the food system alone would likely push global warming beyond 1.5°C.

Most of us have become aware of animal agriculture’s contribution to climate change, but not vice versa. In fact, one of the first places most of us will feel climate change will be on our plates. Fortunately, novel technologies are being developed to counteract the impact of climate on agriculture and the impact of agriculture on climate.

How climate change impacts meat supply chains

Climate change impacts meat supply chains in three major ways, making them less productive and more expensive. These are:

  • Climate change makes feedstock for cattle, pigs, and chickens harder to grow. According to a recent study, every 1ºC increase slows growth by 7%. Much of that feedstock is corn, and climate change is driving lower corn yields. Indeed, one report forecasts a 20-40% decline in US corn belt production from 1991-2000 levels by 2046-2055.
  • Extreme weather events decrease livestock productivity through heat stress, which increases the likelihood of disease and decreases feed efficiency and reproductive health.
  • We will have more animals needing to drink more water to cool down, at a time when about two-thirds of the human population may live under water-stressed conditions by 2025.

The impact of changing ecosystems on meat supply chains is undeniable, and the net result is more volatility and higher prices, as highlighted by the rate of inflation for beef and pork prices in the US.

How does inflation vary by food category over time?
How does inflation vary by food category over time? Image: US Department of Agriculture

Despite this, global demand is not letting up – we love our meat. Only about six countries in the world have reached what can tentatively be described as “peak meat”. Meat consumption per capita is still rising in the US, and growing even faster in other parts of the world where incomes are rising – like China, Vietnam and Brazil.

China is now the world’s biggest meat consumer at 53 million tons of pork and 10 million tons of beef and is still at only 50% of US consumption per capita.

Behaviour changes linked to improved incomes and more meat-heavy diets are far more significant than population increases in terms of how much meat we eat – one-third of the world still doesn’t consume enough protein for their nutritional needs.

What this means for consumers and food security

Ultimately these climate impacts on meat supply chains will lead to meat shortages, price increases and limit access to highly bioavailable animal protein to the lucky few. We’re already seeing this in some parts of the world.

The UK recorded the lowest meat consumption on record last year, a 26% decrease in beef, pork and lamb since 2012. Why? A combination of the rising cost of living and that meat is too expensive. This has had a far greater net impact on meat consumption than the rise of vegan, vegetarian and flexitarian diets.

Protein diversification is part of the solution, but behaviour change is hard and patterns of how we eat are deeply culturally ingrained. Despite a vegan diet gaining in popularity, vegans only account for about ~1% of global demand, so relying on consumer dietary change is not enough.

Meat is tasty and most of the world would like not to be priced out of animal protein. This means we will persist in our quest to obtain more cheap meat and continue the vicious cycle by having increasingly intensive animal agriculture systems facing enormous risk.

So how do we ensure our grandchildren can still try burgers, eat dim sum, or enjoy a chicken curry? New technologies can play a role in more robust food production ecosystems and help meet our 1.5ºC climate change target.

How technology can keep meat on our plates

One way is to build climate adaptability and risk mitigation in our current systems. For example, heat-resistant feedstock crops or integrated mixed-use farming systems that are more resilient to changes in climate. For example, Pairwise is trialling a CRISPR-edited corn with more robust yields to sustain productivity.

Advancement in technologies like cultivated meat, cellular agriculture and new proteins offer an additional pressure release valve.

Loading...

Cultivated meat grows animal muscle and fat cells with a lower feed and water intensity, while having the same taste and nutritional value as meat. Fork & Good’s cultivated pork, for example, uses 10x less water and 4x fewer calories than conventional hog rearing without relying on an animal so is more heat and disease resilient.

Cellular agriculture also has similar advantages. Precision fermentation for dairy and eggs from companies such as The Every Company enables us to get the same proteins without the need for animals.

Of course, the role of these technologies will be dependent on scalable solutions that improve affordability in the long term.

For example, at Fork & Good research efforts have brought down costs 300 times over four years. We must also consider where protein access is low and nutrient deficiency high, to tailor the forms of animal, plant or cellular agriculture introduced to increase access to protein.

Discover

What is the World Economic Forum doing to help ensure global food security?

Given the scale of the problem, it will be important to consider a multi-pronged approach and support innovation in the sector by promoting investment in new technologies such as cultivated meat.

Scientists, policy-makers and the food industry have an opportunity to work together to speed up the use of sustainable practices and support the scale-up of new technologies.

Ultimately this will allow future generations to experience the variety of foods we enjoy today, and even keep the occasional burger on the menu.

Don't miss any update on this topic

Create a free account and access your personalized content collection with our latest publications and analyses.

Sign up for free

License and Republishing

World Economic Forum articles may be republished in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International Public License, and in accordance with our Terms of Use.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

Related topics:
Agriculture, Food and BeverageDavos AgendaSupply Chain and Transport
Share:
World Economic Forum logo
Global Agenda

The Agenda Weekly

A weekly update of the most important issues driving the global agenda

Subscribe today

You can unsubscribe at any time using the link in our emails. For more details, review our privacy policy.

Nearly 15% of the seafood we produce each year is wasted. Here’s what needs to happen

Charlotte Edmond

April 11, 2024

About Us

Events

Media

Partners & Members

  • Join Us

Language Editions

Privacy Policy & Terms of Service

© 2024 World Economic Forum