Reducing Livestock Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Future growth in meat consumption is going to be driven by an expanding population, higher incomes and consumer preferences, writes TheCattleSite senior editor, Chris Harris.
calendar icon 9 November 2010
clock icon 3 minute read

With the global population expected to reach 9 billion from its present 6 billion in 2050, meat consumption is expected to double, according to Prof Cledwyn Thomas.

Speaking at the World Meat Congress in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Prof Thomas said that 80 per cent of the growth in meat consumption is going to come from developing countries.

Most of this growth will come in the pig and poultry sectors but the growth will also bring with it concerns over environmental sustainability.

"We will need to deliver productivity and efficiency gains to provide food security," Prof Thomas said.

However, he said that to meet demand without increasing animal numbers, the sector will have to ensure environmental sustainability.

To do this, rural livelihoods will have to be maintained and both animal and human health risks carefully managed.

Prof Thomas said there are several major benefits to livestock rearing and production as it is a means of converting feedstuffs that are inedible to humans into an edible form in meat. The sector also has other environmental benefits including employment and taking people out of poverty in developing countries and there are also environmental benefits for the landscape in nutrient recycling and the creation of biodiverse ecosystem.

He said the creation of these ecosystems through grazing and in the pig sector trough fertilisation also has a negative impact on the environment and landscape, but this can be managed and the negative impacts can be overcome through technology.

He said the creation of greenhouse gas emission from livestock production is fundamentally different from the impact of particulate pollution.

He said that it has been estimated that livestock production produces 18 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions in CO2 equivalent. He said that some estimates have been higher and some lower but there are inherent errors and uncertainties in the methods used to calculate greenhouse gas emissions.

He said the contribution of land use change and the different systems of production have also to be taken into consideration.

When looking at the life cycle analysis of livestock production and the greenhouse gas effect he said that each livestock sector - pig, poultry and cattle - had its own global warming potential impact.

Prof Thomas said: "Unlike other sectors agriculture emissions have huge uncertainties, but we can't risk doing nothing.

"We have to seek solutions that both reduce emissions and increase productivity."

He said the sector has to improve performance through efficiencies in breeding, feeding and management, because a high liveweight gain means a low methane output.

"We need to adopt strategies that reduce emissions and improve profitability," Prof Thomas told the Congress.

He said that voluntary codes and pressure from the retailers will start to have an effect by forcing producers to adopt new regimes that include different fed regimes to reduce emissions and genetically breeding animals that produce less greenhouse gas emission.

He said that taxes could be introduced but in the long run policies of cap, trade and permit over emissions are likely to come to the fore.

He concluded that meat production systems can produce positive environment, ecosystems and landscape benefits.

However he said that the industry needs to promote and disseminate technologies that deliver positive benefits as production intensifies.

He also called for major research into soil carbon sequestration to find out how much the soil can take up.

And he concluded by calling on the International Meat Secretariat, the sponsor of the World Meat Congress to be at the heart of the development of research and voluntary codes for the reduction of livestock greenhouse gas emissions.

November 2010
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