Intensifying livestock farming not environmentally viable

Intensifying livestock farming not environmentally viable
21st Dec 2011


The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation has today called on farmers worldwide to use natural resources more efficiently to meet the growing demand for meat and animal products worldwide, without severely impacting on the environment. reports farming online.
 The FAO predicts that by 2050, an expanded world population will be consuming over two thirds more animal protein than it does today, which will seriously strain the planet's natural resources. In a report published today, the organisation projects that demand for meat will rise 73 per cent and dairy 58 per cent in the next 40 years.
The World Livestock 2011 report acknowledges that this level of growth could be unsustainable; over the last 40 years, livestock populations have exploded around the world and the UN organisation said that continued, comparative increases in population would not be possible. The report states, "It is hard to envisage meeting projected demand by keeping twice as many poultry, 80 percent more small ruminants, 50 percent more cattle and 40 percent more pigs, using the same level of natural resources as currently."
The FAO researchers state that, although the prevailing response to the increase in demand, as populations and incomes rise, is to scale-up and rear more animals more intensively, the impacts of intensification as it currently exists are not environmentally viable.
As intensive systems, which were first pioneered in the USA in the 1970s, have been shown to cause environmental damage, including groundwater pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, and incubate disease, the researchers claim, "An urgent challenge is to make intensive production more environmentally benign."
Furthermore, with increasing regulation on the horizon, as the use of antibiotics in intensive agriculture systems comes under scrutiny from governments worried about the potential for creating antibiotic resistant bacteria, a different approach to livestock farming may need to be developed.  
Efficiency gains only way to meet demand
UN scientists have claimed there are three ways the global farming community could respond to the pressures posed by climate change, pollution and food security: reduce the level of pollution generated from waste and greenhouse gases; reduce the input of water and grain needed for each output of livestock protein; and recycle agro-industrial by-products through livestock populations.
The organisation claims the world needs to boost its cereal output by one billion tons and produce 200 million extra tons of livestock products a year by 2050 in order to feed a population projected to rise to nine billion from a current seven billion. It also said that drought and water shortages  and limiting the use of precious inputs must also be considered when planning to meet food security challenges.
Animal health is key to food security
The FAO claimed that much stricter consideration needs to be given to animal health, particularly in developing countries where livestock is reared near urban areas, which increases the risk of transferring disease to the human population. In a statement issued today from Rome, the FAO said, “The threat of animal diseases, some which may directly threaten human health, will have to be carefully managed as livestock production is ramped up.”
Global trends in livestock production have not played out evenly on the ground. Although overall livestock production has increased dramatically, in many places production increases have been minimal and poor and vulnerable communities have not seen their consumption of animal protein, which could reduce malnutrition and boost incomes, rise. Production has expanded rapidly in East and Southeast Asia and in Latin America and the Caribbean but growth in sub-Saharan Africa has been slow.
The FAO claims overall, more must be done to secure food from existing production and minimise waste. If livestock production is to continue at the current rate, larger-scale farms in particular must make efforts to reduce pollution, greenhouse gasses, water consumption and grain which could go to feed people and increase efficiency, through measures such as recycling more agro-industrial by-products.  
It said that, if farmers and agriculturalists can enact changes and increase efficiancy, the results for some of the world's poorest regions could be dramatic. Stressing the importance of livestock farming the FAO said in its statement, "Even small amounts of animal source foods can improve the nutritional status of low-income households. Meat, milk and eggs provide proteins with a wide range of amino acids as well as micro-nutrients such as iron, zinc, vitamin A, vitamin B12 and calcium, in which many malnourished people are deficient."

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