Meat, particularly cattle production, causes too much gas. Raising livestock and then slaughtering them for consumption uses up a great deal of our earthly resources, especially water. On the other hand, raising livestock feeds a lot of people and is a major money maker. That’s 1.3 billion people who reap the benefits of raising livestock for human consumption, especially in developing countries.
A new study released Monday by Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) examines the types of food livestock eat, how that feed affects quality of meat, milk and eggs, and how much greenhouse emissions are produced. Livestock includes cows, sheep, goats, pigs, poultry and various other farm animals.
There is a significant divide in livestock production between developed countries and developing countries. Livestock in developing countries requires a lot more resources than livestock in developed countries. The PNAS study shows that resources required to raise livestock depend on the type of animal, such as the kind of food it eats and where it lives. The quantity of meat produced depends largely on type of feed and location.
The study, produced by scientists from the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) in Kenya, the Commonwealth Scientific & Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) in Australia and the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) in Austria, shows that cattle is the primary offender in greenhouse gas emissions globally, producing about 77%. In comparison, poultry and pork produce 10% in greenhouse emissions globally. Meat production causes too much gas.
The highest rate of greenhouse emissions comes from Latin America, South Asia, Europe and sub-Saharan Africa, amounting to about 75% from cattle, sheep and goats, and 56% from pigs and poultry.
In developing countries such as sub-Saharan Africa, cattle eat low-quality feed, which causes them to consume more, thus producing more greenhouse emissions. Cattle also feed a lot on grass. Livestock in sub-Saharan Africa consume 50 million tons of grain per year, compared to 1.3 billion tons of grain consumed by livestock in developed countries. Due to this low efficiency in feed consumption, livestock can become undernourished and ill. This occurs similarly in Ethiopia, Somalia and Sudan. By comparison, many parts of the U.S. and Europe have much lower greenhouse emissions due to better quality of feed.
On a global level, pigs and poultry are the most efficient meats to produce. The reason for this is due to the diet,“which provide(s) high-quality, balanced concentrate diets for animals of high genetic potential.” It’s important to keep in mind, though, that while this contributes to efficient meat production, it also brings with it the risk of zoonotic diseases that are contagious and can spread to humans. There is the added concern of greenhouse gases as a result of transportation of feed and meat, and flattening forests for the purpose of growing crops for feed.
The PNAS findings show there is room for developing more sustainable food production practices for livestock. While factory farming has been problematic due to overuse of antibiotics in livestock and the high levels of pollution such farming brings, some things about it are effective. Well-balanced, nutritious feed means less emissions. Scientists are testing better grasses for cattle, as meat production, as it stands now in developing countries, causes too much gas. For small farmers, it is cheaper to allow their cattle to roam and graze than to buy nutritious feed that is expensive so finding a sustainable solution for all is complicated but doable.
By Juana Poareo