Livestock intensification damaging to food security, claims CIWF

By Carina Perkins

- Last updated on GMT

Livestock intensification damaging to food security, claims CIWF
Livestock intensification damaging to food security, claims CIWF

Related tags Food security Agriculture Beef Livestock

Intensification of livestock farming is actually damaging, rather than improving, world food security, according to a new report from UK charity Compassion in World Farming (CIWF).

The report, written by a team led by Professor Karlheinz Erb at the Vienna Institute of Social Ecology, Alpen-Adria University Austria, concluded that while livestock plays “a central role in food security by providing food, employment and income”​, the grain-based intensification of farming systems is reducing the food available for human consumption.

It stated that if intensification continues, and people across the world adopt a more Western, meat-heavy diet, there will be “dramatic consequences”​ for land-use globally, making food security more challenging in areas that are already food insecure.

CIWF research manager Emily Lewis-Brown, explained that the researchers looked at various different diet scenarios for 2050 and analysed how different farming systems could deliver in terms of food security. They found that grain-based systems had a negative impact on food security, because feeding grain to animals reduces the amount of arable land available to feed humans directly.

She told​: “The key finding was that if everybody in the world wanted to lead a very heavy livestock-based diet, like we have in Europe and America, we would run out of space on the earth. There aren’t enough resources on the earth for everyone in the world in 2050 to lead that diet with current farming. Trying to sell that model of diet overseas just isn’t going to work – no current farming system can deliver it.

“In fact, even if crop yields increase to 2050, the intensive grain-based farming systems were less likely to deliver food security on a high meat diet than the extensive, pasture-based systems.”

The report does not rule out livestock farming altogether, pointing out that livestock plays an important role in many communities around the world, and that extensive systems can make use of land which cannot be used for arable production.

“With the extensive forage and grazing based systems, animals – particularly cattle and sheep — can take advantage of land that is very marginal, such as very steep slopes, in extreme weather conditions, or land with a lot of rocks in it. So in areas where arable farming is not possible, they are taking advantage of marginal land resources and turning it into a food we can use,”​ explained Lewis-Brown.

“The arable land is the land that really needs, for food security, to be protected for providing food as directly as possible for people.”

However, the report stated that while it is possible to feed the world with extensive farming, this can only be achieved if there is a more even balance of meat consumption across the world, with an increase in consumption in less industrialised nations and a decrease in the Western industrialised markets.

It recommended that governments and the food industry reduce the quantity of cereals fed to livestock, looking at alternatives such as the use of agro-industrial by-products, and promote sustainable diets, addressing food waste and challenging high meat consumption in Western countries.

“I would be looking for the livestock industry to use more robust breeds that can take some forage and crop residue, so they are not exclusively reliant upon these grain-based feeds. Because I think that gives healthier animals, it can improve animal welfare and it helps deliver food security globally,”​ said Lewis-Brown.

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