Research Report

Lean, green, mean, obscene…? What is efficiency? And is it sustainable? Animal production and consumption reconsidered



Garnett T, Roos E & Little DC (2015) Lean, green, mean, obscene…? What is efficiency? And is it sustainable? Animal production and consumption reconsidered. Food Climate Research Network (FCRN).

First paragraph: “Food systems need to become more efficient. We need to produce food in ways that use fewer resources and generate fewer negative environmental impacts. This drive towards efficiency is essential if we are to achieve more sustainable food systems.”  Such is the typical conclusion of numerous policy documents and industry statements, based on academic papers published in agricultural science and life cycle assessment journals.  It is a well-rehearsed observation that the food system today is undermining the environment upon which future food production depends. We know too that given current trends, our problems are set to grow, not just because our population is growing, meaning more mouths to feed, but also because our food demands are changing. As people on average become richer, they demand and can afford not just more food, but more of the foods that they like, notably those of animal origin. The rearing of animals for flesh, eggs and milk generates some 14.5% of total global GHG emissions, occupies 70% of agricultural land and is the main cause of the environmental problems such as biodiversity loss and water pollution.1,2 Moving from land to water, there are major concerns about the depletion of wild fish stocks and the negative effects of over fishing on aquatic ecosystems. Aquaculture production bridges and is linked to concerns in both the terrestrial and aquatic domains: it is a user of land based resources, but its production has been underpinned in recent years on wild fish stocks used as feed inputs.  While there is general agreement that action is needed to address the environmental problems caused by the food system, what such ‘action’ should be is the subject of substantial attention and debate within the policy, academic, business and NGO communities. One word that comes up time and again in discussions about the way forward is ‘efficiency.’

Publication date31/12/2015
Publication date online18/09/2015
PublisherFood Climate Research Network (FCRN)
Publisher URL

People (1)


Professor Dave Little

Professor Dave Little

Professor, Institute of Aquaculture