FAO report highlights growing threats to livestock industry

By Aaron McDonald

- Last updated on GMT

Climate change could led to an increase in the number of livestock raised in grazing systems
Climate change could led to an increase in the number of livestock raised in grazing systems

Related tags Climate change Agriculture Beef Lamb Livestock Pork Poultry

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has called for "urgent concerted policy responses" to deal with the growing threat of climate change to global food security.

With demand for ruminant meat predicted to almost double (+90%) between 2000 and 2050, the FAO said potential problems needed to be addressed early on to mitigate against their effects, particularly when it came to the availability of water.

In its recently published report: ‘Climate Change and Food Systems - Global assessments and implications for food security and trade’, the FAO declared that a key concern was the potential for increasingly extreme weather events to damage crop production, and impact grass yields – a key source of food for ruminant livestock. In terms of impacts on crop productivity, low latitude and tropical regions were likely to be negatively impacted, while the findings were more positive for high-latitude regions.

Although further research is required, a change in climate could potentially affect livestock markets on a global level, either in a positive or negative way, said the report. Notably, south Asia and south-east Asia could see benefits from the effects of climate change. A "large possible grass yield"​ could have encouraging results for the production of livestock in the two regions. The report suggested this increase in yield could see livestock production rise by 30% in these areas by 2050.

However, regions such as North America, Europe and Oceania could experience the opposite, with decreasing rainfall in these regions, leading to "significant negative effects on livestock production".

Although the report stated that the effects of climate change were not as certain in sub-Saharan Africa as in other parts of the globe, they were "potentially the most severe." Ruminant meat production could drop 17% while monogastric production might fall 30%.

One way in which livestock could adapt to climate change was by altering their diets, suggested the report. It said: "This occurs through changes of allocation of the animals between grazing systems and systems relying on supplementation of the diets by crop-based feeds."​ In 2000, 20% of ruminants globally were raised in grazing systems, however this could potentially be increased to 38% by 2050.

While the FAO was clear that more work needed to be done on researching the effects of climate change, one key finding was that grass yields were forecast to suffer less damage than crop yields, which could lead to an increase in the number of grass-grazing ruminants. And, on a positive note, climate change impacts on crop and grass yields are only projected to have a small impact on global meat and milk production by 2050.

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