Steps to Sustainable Livestock

UK - The recent Steps to Sustainable Livestock Conference in Bristol, organised by The Global Farm Platform, covered a fascinating sweep of topics in this expansive subject area and provided a remarkably international perspective, with invited speakers from all corners of the globe, writes Sarah Hulbert.
calendar icon 17 February 2016
clock icon 4 minute read

Under the theme of ‘consumption of human food by livestock’ Dr Harinder Makkar of the FAO addressed the issue of increasing meat protein demands in developing countries due to the rising human population (with the world population expected to reach 9.6 billion in 2050).

The numbers presented were staggering, such as 443 million extra tonnes of maize required in 2050 – 60 per cent of which would be for animal feeds.

Consumption of animal protein varies dramatically around the world from 1.7g per person per day in Burundi to 69g in the USA. The ideal ratio says Dr Makkar would be 20g per person.

Dr Makkar proposed a holistic approach to create more efficient systems, taking into consideration water use, biodiversity, poverty reduction and job creation.

He provided many options for further investigation to reduce the global impacts of the input demands of production animals, including: balanced phase feeding, increasing the quality of forages, maximising the nutrient quality of forages by improving harvesting practices, reducing feed losses, and introducing novel feeds as an alternative to grain such as insect meal, Moringa and mulberry leaf meals, seaweeds and algae.

Michael Lee’s talk on sustainability and grazing systems also produced fascinating statistics, such as the maintenance energy level ratio of a typical high-yielding Holstein cow, working at 4.8 x maintenance daily to produce 50 litres of milk, compared to a Tour de France cyclist working at 2.7 x maintenance or at the limit of human energy expenditure a polar explorer, working at 2.4 – 4 x maintenance. (Huxley)

Dr Lee, of the University of Bristol and Rothamsted Research explained how grazing systems have been shown to provide a better balance of beneficial nutrients such as vitamins and fatty acids than grain fed animals.

The health of the soil and local biodiversity is improved by the activity of grazing animals, and by careful selection of the forages grown, methane emissions can be reduced. While growth may be slower and yields lower than grain fed animals these issues are balanced out by lower feed costs and long term gains.

Following on from the controversial ‘Pig Idea’ campaign to feed food waste to pigs, Erasmus zu Ermgassen from the University of Cambridge presented the findings of his study on the impact of using swill in Europe. In Japan and South Korea food waste is taken away to centralised processing plants, heat treated rendering it safe for consumption, then sold to farms at a cost lower than conventional feeds.

By following this example, Dr zu Ermgassen said, the EU could reduce its land use requirement by 1.8 million hectares of land used for growing grain for feed, regulation would be introduced to reduce the risks of current clandestine feeding on smallholdings, and an extra 70 million Europeans could be fed.

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