According to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, the livestock sector is the single largest anthropogenic user of land. It uses approximately 30 percent of the land surface on the planet, is responsible for between 14 and 50 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, according to some estimates and accounts for more than 8 percent of human water use.
Experts have different ideas about how to mitigate the environmental impacts of livestock production, but the two most modeled and researched methods are one, increasing productivity and two, reducing demand. Increasing productivity means meeting the projected demands for meat while minimizing impacts through strategies such as improving feed efficiency, digestibility and the protein and mineral levels in feed. Reducing demand, on the other hand, means urging eaters to consume less meat products and replacing the large proportion of ruminants with monogastric livestock, such as pigs, rabbits and other animals.
But there is another strategy that could be a key piece in the global efforts to find a way to sustainably raise livestock: reducing the use of livestock feed that competes with direct human food crop production, which is called "food-competing feedstuffs" (FCF).
A recent study published in the Journal of the Royal Society set out to examine the benefits and challenges of limiting FCF in livestock diets, which they call "the consistency strategy." This approach shows promise for two reasons. First, it reframes the role of livestock in the food system as a solution to a problem, rather than merely a source of protein. Ruminants are uniquely designed to utilize resources that cannot otherwise be used for food production, including grasslands, much of which is not suitable for arable crop production and food waste and by-products such as brans, whey and oil-cakes. Instead of feeding ruminants crops that can be used for human consumption, this strategy takes advantage of the animals' ability to convert less useful resources into food. Second, limiting FCF in livestock diets will, in turn, affect production and consumption because it would lead to a reduction in supply. It would also alleviate land-use competition by decreasing the amount of feed grown on croplands.
This study analyzed several livestock production scenarios and found that the consistency strategy can produce sufficient quantities of food while significantly lessening environmental impacts as compared to a business-as-usual scenario. In the most extreme case, where animals are exclusively fed from grassland and by-products, greenhouse gas emissions would be reduced by 18 percent, arable land occupation would be reduced by 26 percent and freshwater use would be reduced by 21 percent. This scenario would also result in reducing protein intake per capita from livestock products by 71 percent.
The study authors emphasize that their method is a complement, not a substitute, for other strategies of increasing efficiency and reducing demand. The consistency strategy would work in tandem with existing efforts to create an even more effective solution to shape the future of sustainable livestock production.
Lani Furbank is a writer and photographer based in the DC metro area, where she covers the intersection of food, farming, and the environment for local and national publications. Follow her on Twitter @lanifurbank.
YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE
At first glance, you wouldn't think avocados and almonds could harm bees; but a closer look at how these popular crops are produced reveals their potentially detrimental effect on pollinators.
Migratory beekeeping involves trucking millions of bees across the U.S. to pollinate different crops, including avocados and almonds. Timothy Paule II / Pexels / CC0<p>According to <a href="https://www.fromthegrapevine.com/israeli-kitchen/beekeeping-how-to-keep-bees" target="_blank">From the Grapevine</a>, American avocados also fully depend on bees' pollination to produce fruit, so farmers have turned to migratory beekeeping as well to fill the void left by wild populations.</p><p>U.S. farmers have become reliant upon the practice, but migratory beekeeping has been called exploitative and harmful to bees. <a href="https://www.cnn.com/2019/05/10/health/avocado-almond-vegan-partner/index.html" target="_blank">CNN</a> reported that commercial beekeeping may injure or kill bees and that transporting them to pollinate crops appears to negatively affect their health and lifespan. Because the honeybees are forced to gather pollen and nectar from a single, monoculture crop — the one they've been brought in to pollinate — they are deprived of their normal diet, which is more diverse and nourishing as it's comprised of a variety of pollens and nectars, Scientific American reported.</p><p>Scientific American added how getting shuttled from crop to crop and field to field across the country boomerangs the bees between feast and famine, especially once the blooms they were brought in to fertilize end.</p><p>Plus, the artificial mass influx of bees guarantees spreading viruses, mites and fungi between the insects as they collide in midair and crawl over each other in their hives, Scientific American reported. According to CNN, some researchers argue that this explains why so many bees die each winter, and even why entire hives suddenly die off in a phenomenon called colony collapse disorder.</p>
Avocado and almond crops depend on bees for proper pollination. FRANK MERIÑO / Pexels / CC0<p>Salazar and other Columbian beekeepers described "scooping up piles of dead bees" year after year since the avocado and citrus booms began, according to Phys.org. Many have opted to salvage what partial colonies survive and move away from agricultural areas.</p><p>The future of pollinators and the crops they help create is uncertain. According to the United Nations, nearly half of insect pollinators, particularly bees and butterflies, risk global extinction, Phys.org reported. Their decline already has cascading consequences for the economy and beyond. Roughly 1.4 billion jobs and three-quarters of all crops around the world depend on bees and other pollinators for free fertilization services worth billions of dollars, Phys.org noted. Losing wild and native bees could <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/wild-bees-crop-shortage-2646849232.html" target="_self">trigger food security issues</a>.</p><p>Salazar, the beekeeper, warned Phys.org, "The bee is a bioindicator. If bees are dying, what other insects beneficial to the environment... are dying?"</p>
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
Australia is one of the most biodiverse countries in the world. It is home to more than 7% of all the world's plant and animal species, many of which are endemic. One such species, the Pharohylaeus lactiferus bee, was recently rediscovered after spending nearly 100 years out of sight from humans.
Scientists have newly photographed three species of shark that can glow in the dark, according to a study published in Frontiers in Marine Science last month.
- 10 Little-Known Shark Facts - EcoWatch ›
- 4 New Walking Shark Species Discovered - EcoWatch ›
- 5 Incredible Species That Glow in the Dark - EcoWatch ›
FedEx's entire parcel pickup and delivery fleet will become 100 percent electric by 2040, according to a statement released Wednesday. The ambitious plan includes checkpoints, such as aiming for 50 percent electric vehicles by 2025.
- Which Is Worse for the Planet: Beef or Cars? - EcoWatch ›
- Greenhouse Gas Levels Hit Record High Despite Lockdowns, UN ... ›
- 1.8 Billion Tons More Greenhouse Gases Will Be Released, Thanks ... ›