29 November 2006 – Cattle-rearing
generates more global warming greenhouse gases, as measured in CO2
equivalent, than transportation, and smarter production methods,
including improved animal diets to reduce enteric fermentation and
consequent methane emissions, are urgently needed,
according to a new United Nations report released today.
“Livestock are one of the most
significant contributors to today’s most serious environmental
problems,” senior UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) official
Henning Steinfeld said. “Urgent action is required to remedy the
Cattle-rearing is also a major source of
land and water degradation, according to the FAO report,
Shadow–Environmental Issues and Options, of which Mr.
Steinfeld is the senior author.
“The environmental costs per unit of
livestock production must be cut by one half, just to avoid the level of
damage worsening beyond its present level,” it warns.
When emissions from land use and land use
change are included, the livestock sector accounts for 9 per cent of CO2
deriving from human-related activities, but produces a much larger share
of even more harmful greenhouse gases. It generates 65 per cent of
human-related nitrous oxide, which has 296 times the Global Warming
Potential (GWP) of CO2. Most of this comes from manure.
And it accounts for respectively 37 per
cent of all human-induced methane (23 times as warming as CO2), which is
largely produced by the digestive system of ruminants, and 64 per cent
of ammonia, which contributes significantly to acid rain.
With increased prosperity, people are
consuming more meat and dairy products every year, the report notes.
Global meat production is projected to more than double from 229 million
tonnes in 1999/2001 to 465 million tonnes in 2050, while milk output is
set to climb from 580 to 1043 million tonnes.
The global livestock sector is growing
faster than any other agricultural sub-sector. It provides livelihoods
to about 1.3 billion people and contributes about 40 per cent to global
agricultural output. For many poor farmers in developing countries
livestock are also a source of renewable energy for draft and an
essential source of organic fertilizer for their crops.
Livestock now use 30 per cent of the
earth’s entire land surface, mostly permanent pasture but also including
33 per cent of the global arable land used to producing feed for
livestock, the report notes. As forests are cleared to create new
pastures, it is a major driver of deforestation, especially in Latin
America where, for example, some 70 per cent of former forests in the
Amazon have been turned over to grazing.
At the same time herds cause wide-scale
land degradation, with about 20 per cent of pastures considered degraded
through overgrazing, compaction and erosion. This figure is even higher
in the drylands where inappropriate policies and inadequate livestock
management contribute to advancing desertification.
The livestock business is among the most
damaging sectors to the earth’s increasingly scarce water resources,
contributing among other things to water pollution from animal wastes,
antibiotics and hormones, chemicals from tanneries, fertilizers and the
pesticides used to spray feed crops.
Beyond improving animal diets, proposed
remedies to the multiple problems include soil conservation methods
together with controlled livestock exclusion from sensitive areas;
setting up biogas plant initiatives to recycle manure; improving
efficiency of irrigation systems; and introducing full-cost pricing for
water together with taxes to discourage large-scale livestock
concentration close to cities.
Source: United Nations - UN News Centre