8-Point Agenda To Better Utilize Livestock Without Damaging The Environment

By Shweta Iyer on March 6, 2014 11:59 AM EST

Livestock
An international team of scientists has come up with 8 economic and environmentally friendly ways to fix the global food crisis, by maintaining livestock. (Photo: Photo courtesy of Shutterstock)

With Earth's climate being no longer reliable due to global warming and its ever increasing population, the threat of a world-wide food crisis is looming large. One out of seven people in the world are malnourished and the need for an efficient food production system is of paramount importance. Now, an international team of scientists has come up with eight economic and environmentally friendly ways to fix the global food crisis, by maintaining livestock, such as cows, goats, and sheep.

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According to a press release Wednesday, academics at the University of Bristol's School of Veterinary Sciences have devised these strategies to include ruminant that is cud-chewing livestock a more sustainable part of the food supply. These strategies are outlined in a Comment piece in Nature this week.

These 8 strategies are as follows:

  • Feed animals less human food: Grain-fed livestock consume an estimated one-third or more of the world's cereal grain. These millions of tons of grain can be used directly to feed people. Livestock farmers can utilize the ability of ruminants to digest forage and other high-fiber feed such as hay, silage, and high-fibre crop residues, which cannot be digested by humans.
  • Raise regionally appropriate animals:There are a lot of advantages in breeding indigenous livestock, which are better suited to the local climate and diseases. For example, European and North American Holstein dairy cows can produce 30 litres of milk a day. Many of these animals have been exported to Asia and Africa in order to utilize their high milk yielding capacity. But due to the stress of having to endure a hotter climate, along with sub-optimal housing, and tropical diseases, these cows produce much less milk, and the costs of feed and husbandry far exceed those of native breeds. Hence farmers should be encouraged to maintain local breeds.
  • Keep animals healthy: Many of today's emerging human infectious diseases are thought to have come from livestock. 13 livestock-related zoonoses (diseases transferable between animals and humans) cause 2.4 billion cases of human illness and 2.2 million deaths each year in underdeveloped and developing nations. These diseases can be avoided by following a few preventive measures such as improving hygiene, quarantining new arrivals on farms, and establishing coordinated, sustained surveillance for diseases that cross the boundaries of species or countries.
  • Adopt smart supplements: Giving supplements to livestock is an economical, productive, and nutritive option. Supplements encourage the growth of microbes in the rumen of livestock that improves their digestion and provides nutrition to high producing animals, such as lactating females. Also, with some supplements, animals can produce more milk and meat for proportionally less greenhouse gas.
  • Eat quality not quantity: The debate on the ethical issues of raising livestock for human consumption has been going on for years. But for communities with malnutrition, consuming a balanced diet that includes healthy animal products is essential. However, not more than 300 grams of red meat per person per week is proposed as a global target.
  • Tailor practices to local culture: Almost one billion of the world's population belonging to remote and poor communities depend on livestock for their livelihood. The benefits of livestock are numerous as they provide a lifelong supply of dairy products, meat, manure, and other byproducts. In some communities owning livestock is a symbol of wealth and status and also a means of empowering women. However, profit and industry driven farming are disrupting the benefits of livestock breeding. Policies to encourage high welfare, efficient management should consider cultural as well as natural factors.
  • Track costs and benefits: Although livestock production results in emission of greenhouse gases, improved grazing management can increase biodiversity, maintain ecosystem services, and improve carbon capture by plants and soil. A cow produces up to 70 kg of manure per day, providing enough fertilizer in a year for one hectare of wheat, equivalent to 128 kg of synthetic nitrogen that might otherwise come from fossil fuels.
  • Study best practice: Establish farm platforms (a global network of research farms), which can find methods to evaluate and improve local farming and the use of livestock. This will help governments to put in place policies, which will provide economic and ecological benefits to the local farmers.

"The quest for 'intensification' in livestock farming has thundered ahead with little regard for sustainability and overall efficiency, the net amount of food produced in relation to inputs such as land and water. With animal protein set to remain part of the food supply, we must pursue sustainable intensification and figure out how to keep livestock in ways that work best for individuals, communities and the planet," said Professor Mark Eisler, Chair in Global Farm Animal Health in the School of Veterinary Sciences and Cabot Institute at the University of Bristol.

Source: Mark C. Eisler, Michael R. F. Lee, John F. Tarlton and Graeme B. Martin. Steps to sustainable livestock: With improved breeding and cultivation, animals can yield food that is better for people and the planet. Nature. 2014.      

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