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How can the livestock industry operate more intelligently?

An increasing worldwide demand for meat will likely drastically alter human health, the environment and the global economy in the next 50 years, according to a new report.
Written by Andrew Nusca, Contributor on

An increasing worldwide demand for meat will likely drastically alter human health, the environment and the global economy in the next 50 years, according to a new report.

According to a new Stanford University report, Livestock in a Changing Landscape (.pdf), the livestock industry is critical to the livelihoods of some 1 billion people and the global economy as a whole.

But it's also a major polluter, according to Stanford professor Harold Mooney.

"Without a change in current practices, the intensive increases in projected livestock production systems will double the current environmental burden and will contribute to large-scale ecosystem degradation -- unless appropriate measures are taken," Mooney said in a statement.

According to the report, livestock production accounts for 40 percent of global agricultural gross domestic product.

More data points from the report:

  • Beef, poultry, pork, and other meat products provide one-third of humanity's protein intake.
  • More than 1.7 billion animals are used in livestock production worldwide.
  • Those animals occupy more than one-fourth of the Earth's land.
  • Production of feed for those animals consumes about one-third of total arable land.
  • The livestock sector is responsible for about 18 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions worldwide.
  • The rapid growth of commercialized industrial livestock has reduced employment opportunities for many.
  • Large-scale industrial production has displaced many small, rural producers in developing nations such as India and China who can't meet global health regulations.

The other problem? The livestock sector is a major environmental polluter. It requires lots of water, fertilizer, pesticides and fossil fuels.

What's more, all that animal waste is polluting land, water and air resources -- a health hazard for many.

The report did come with two primary suggestions:

  • Implement more environmentally and socially sustainable practices to animal production systems.
  • Adopt policies that provide incentives for better management practices that focus on land conservation and more efficient water and fertilizer use.

"This is the first time that we've looked at the social, economic, health, and environmental impacts of livestock in an integrated way," Mooney said. "[We've] presented solutions for reducing the detrimental effects of the industry and enhancing its positive attributes."

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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