Ep3. Efficient meat - problem or solution?

The only way to feed billions or the root of society's problems?

Episode summary

Today we farm and eat meat at a scale not matched in human history. We raise 80 billion animals a year for food at a really low cost to the consumer.  Here we look at how technology, research, and innovation have made animal agriculture much more efficient. 


Do you see efficiency improvements in animal agriculture as essential for feeding a growing population?  Or do you think we should eat less meat, switch to plant-forward diets or create competitive meat alternatives?


We speak with agriculture economists, pig farmers, poultry geneticists, and others who make the best case for an efficient meat future.


Read the transcript


Listen to each part

Part 1 - A world without efficiency gains     (5 minutes)


Jayson Lusk, agriculture economist at Purdue University, and Dirk-Jan de Koning, animal geneticist at Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, describe how animal agriculture - specifically poultry and cattle - have become much more efficient in the last 50-60 years.

Part 2 - The logic of efficiency (11 minutes)


Jayson Lusk talks about economies of scale and comparative advantage, and how that applies to global livestock production. Jan Dutkiewicz, visiting fellow at Harvard law, talks about how the average consumer does not eat the whole animal, but we still manage to use every part of it.


Part 3 - From backyard bird to super-chicken (7 minutes)


Dirk-Jan de Koning describes how chicken farming has become highly specialized and technical, with improvements in breeding and genetics, housing and feed. And he asks if we have gone too far with efficiency in poultry?

Dirk Jan De Koning

Part 4 - A pig farm in Sweden      (7 minutes)


Farmer Anders Gunnarson describes his sustainable pig farm where he grows nearly all his own feed and produces his own energy while raising 3500 pigs. Lars Appelqvist, CEO of HK Scan Sweden, talks about how large-scale farms can be more sustainable than small farms.

Lars Appelqvist

Part 5 - What's the beef?      (7 minutes)


Jude Capper, sustainable livestock consultant, talks about the need for efficiency gains in cattle production and the improvements they've made across the last few decades.

Jude Capper

Part 6 - Wizards and prophets      (5 minutes)


Each of us brings our own life experience and ideologies to conversations about the future of meat. Are you a wizard or a prophet?


Scientific articles and related resources


Food-miles emissions probably overestimated (Ulrich Kreidenweis and Wiebke Jander, 2022)


Consumers’ Attitudes towards Animal Suffering: A Systematic Review on Awareness, Willingness and Dietary Change (Rui Pedro Fonseca and Ruben Sanchez-Sabate, 2022)


Shaping our food – an overview of crop and livestock breeding (Anna Lerhman, 2020)


Part 1 - A world without efficiency gains

Increasing Crop Productivity to Meet Global Needs for Feed, Food, and Fuel  (Michael D. Edgerton, 2009)


Application of genomics to the pork industry ( H. A. M. van der Steen, G. F. W. Prall, G. S. Plastow, 2005)


Part 2 - The logic of efficiency  

Food-miles emissions probably overestimated (Ulrich Kreidenweis and Wiebke Jander, 2022)


Nature's Metropolis (William Cronon, 1991)


Porkopolis (Alex Blanchette, 2020)


Part 3 - From backyard bird to super-chicken

Growth, efficiency, and yield of commercial broilers from 1957, 1978, and 2005 (Martin Zuidhof et al., 2014)


26-story pig skyscraper

China’s Bid to Improve Food Production? Giant Towers of Pigs (NY Times, 2023)


A 26-story pig skyscraper in China will slaughter 1 million animals a year, report says (Business Insider, 2022)


Part 4 - A pig farm in Sweden

Pig Farming in HKScan (HK Scan)


Carbon-neutral pork? More of this, please. (We don't have time, 2020)


Part 5 - What's the beef

The environmental impact of beef production in the United States: 1977 compared with 2007 (Jude Capper, 2011)


Part 6 - Wizard and Prophets

The Wizard and the Prophet Two Remarkable Scientists and Their Dueling Visions to Shape Tomorrow's World (Charles Mann, 2018)