Sustainability is the future of world livestock
What is the future of the world's livestock industry? Many consumers are concerned that many widely
usedlivestock productionmethods do not meet consumer demands for sustainable systems. However,
production can be sustainable, occurring in environments that: supply the needs of the animals resulting
in good welfare, allow coexistence with a wide diversity of organisms native to the area, minimize carbon
footprint and provide a fair lifestyle for the people working there. Conservation need not just involve tiny
islands of natural vegetation in a barren world of agriculture, as there can be great increases in
biodiversity in farmed areas. Herbivores, especially ruminants that consume materials inedible by
humans, are important for human food in the future. However, their diet should not be just ground-level
plants. Silvopastoral systems, pastures with shrubs and trees as well as herbage, are described which
are normally more productive than pasture alone. When compared with widely used livestock production
systems, silvopastoral systems can provide efficient feed conversion, higher biodiversity, enhanced
connectivity between habitat patches and better animal welfare, so they can replace existing systems in
many parts of the world and should be further developed.
1. Some world ecosystem questions
Some landscape is perceived by biologists and the public to have value that is real as opposed to financial and is recognized by international conventions, for example, the European Landscape Convention . One valued landscape is upland grazed land, for example in the Pyrenees and other parts of Europe. Such areas are much influenced by farming and very different from the original upland habitat but many would attest to their value. Are they as important as upland woodland? Aspects of the value of land include ecosystem services such as water flow regulation, provision of harvested goods, biodiversity preservation and climate stabilization via carbon storage in vegetation and soils. Swetnam et al. refer to the value of intact ecosystems, meaning those that are not modified by human activity, but the distinction between modified and unmodified is not always possible or useful. Many of the arguments and quantitative methods developed to calculate value would apply to ecosystems that are partially modified from their original state. Ecosystems subject to some human exploitation can have much biodiversity. The component parts of ecosystems also have value. Populations of charismatic species are of particular interest to the general public, and the lives of the human and non-human individuals present are also valued. Indeed, for many people, the welfare of animals in an area of land is valued more than any other part of the overall system.
Biodiversity is declining in the world, mainly because of farming. Of the total land surface of the world, 33% is used for livestock production . The proportion may well increase in the future so how should livestock areas be managed? Livestock production in Latin America and the Caribbean area has been increasing and today corresponds to 27.1% of the land. Of the 22 million hectares of forest lost between 1960 and 1995, 21 million hectares were then used for cattle production. In tropical regions of the world, annual deforestation rates increased between 2005 and 2010 by 8.5% from an average loss of 10.4 million hectares per year in 2005. Widespread livestock production methods are increasingly viewed as unsustainable, even as the antithesis of conservation and are questioned in relation to animal welfare. One solution, if current widespread animal production systems are used, is to reduce livestock production. Another solution is to use sustainable livestock production methods with much greater on-farm biodiversity than in normal production, no increase in land use and better welfare for the animals
The concept of biodiversity includes the extent of variation when the differences considered are genetic , biologically functional or based on ecosystem type. Biodiversity may be described numerically or by other means. How can adverse effects of livestock production on biodiversity be minimized? Green et al. explained that the increase in world food demand, including especially increased demand for animal products, will lead to a reduction in the extent of habitat for wild species of animals and plants and that two solutions for how to reduce this impact have been proposed. One of these is wildlife-friendly farming, whereas another is land sparing and consequent availability of land for nature reserves. Green et al. produce a model that shows how, to date, farming for species persistence has often depended on demand for agricultural products and how population densities could change with agricultural yield. Land sparing alone leads to islands of ecologically valuable areas in a ‘desert’ of farmland. A combination of land sparing and sustainable farming can promote good welfare in animals and much greater in situ biodiversity than occurs in the widely used agricultural systems.
Profitable operation of a system and demand for its products are not sufficient reasons for considering it to be sustainable and to continue production. Systems were initially called unsustainable when a resource became depleted so much that it became unavailable to the system, or when a product of the system accumulated to a degree that prevented the functioning of the system. Now, the meaning of the term is much wider, for example a system can be unsustainable because of negative impacts on human health, animal welfare or the environment . Hence, a different definition is required. A system or procedure is sustainable if it is acceptable now and if its effects will be acceptable in future, in particular in relation to resource availability, consequences of functioning and morality of action . With more criteria for unacceptable harms ,sustainability is harder to achieve, and unsustainability may be reached long before the production system itself fails. What the public accepts can also change, for example some degree of resource depletion may be tolerated.
Members of the public in all parts of the world, particularly in developed countries, are now insisting on transparency in commercial and governmental activities and on changes in methods of producing of various products. There is a gradual changeover from a ‘push society’, driven in the case of animal production by the producers of the animals, to a ‘pull society’, driven by consumers and facilitated by governments and food retail companies. Increasing numbers of consumers now demand ethical production systems and refuse to buy products where production involves, for example, inhumane slaughter methods, rearing calves in small crates, unnecessarily killing dolphins in tuna nets or the payment of very low prices to poor farmers in developing countries. As a consequence, many systems developed with consideration of only short-term market factors, even if widely used at present, are not sustainable. This means that, in some countries, the public have already demanded that such systems do not continue. Throughout the world, the public are likely to make such demands in the relatively near future. The first steps may be the setting up of supply for niche markets, but the rapidity of increase in the consumer pressure is likely to lead to change away from the most unacceptable systems. Changes with small economic cost are likely to occur faster than changes with more substantial cost. One of the first examples of consumers forcing change is the gradual disappearance of animal production procedures with poor welfare for the animals. It may be that, in future, consumers will not tolerate very low biodiversity in farmed areas.