Monday, April 21, 2008

"Livestock's Long Shadow"

In 2006, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations published a 400-page report detailing the impact of livestock on the environment:

Livestock's Long Shadow (pdf), FAO, 2006

It's been a real eye-opener for me:

Climate Change:
"The livestock sector is a major player [in climate change], responsible for 18% of greenhouse gas emissions measured in CO2 equivalent. This is a higher share than transport."
The major portion of those emissions comes from gases other than CO2, gases with a greater potential to warm the atmosphere, such as:
  • Methane - from enteric fermentation by ruminants
  • Nitrous oxide - from manure
Land Use:
"The livestock sector is by far the single largest anthropogenic user of land. The total area occupied by grazing is equivalent to 26% of the ice-free terrestrial surface of the planet. In addition, the total area dedicated to feedcrop production amounts to 33% of total arable land. In all, livestock production accounts for 70% of all agricultural land and 30% of the land surface of the planet."

"An estimated 80% of total livestock sector growth comes from industrial production systems."
Greenhouse gases, land and water use - none of this bodes well for the free-range industry:
"Cattle grazing in the West has polluted more water, eroded more topsoil, killed more fish, displaced more wildlife, and destroyed more vegetation than any other land use."
- Ted Williams, "He's Going To have An Accident", Audubon, 1991
Protein Source:
"Livestock now consume more human edible protein than they produce. In fact livestock consume 77 million tonnes of protein contained in feedstuff that could potentially be used for human nutrition, whereas only 58 million tonnes of protein are contained in food products that livestock supply."
I was going to say I understood better why products such as cultured meat are being developed. But given the above, I wonder why we don't also apply our technological brainpower to harness the edible protein that already exists.

The report also discusses air and water pollution, and loss of biodiversity.

A nice summary of the report is available on the FAO's highlight page:
Spotlight: Livestock Impacts On The Environment, FAO, 2006


Here's a question ...

Al Gore's book, An Inconvenient Truth: The Crisis of Global Warming also came out in 2006. I read it. I don't recall him discussing the major contribution of livestock production to global warming and environmental degradation. Why not?

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