Arm & Hammer Animal and Food Production
Chickens

A World Without Livestock?

Posted July 08, 2019 by ARM & HAMMER
General

Even while global consumption of meat, eggs and dairy products continues to grow, certain segments of society question the sustainability of livestock production. Some say cows produce methane that cause climate change. Others suggest that plant-derived foods are healthier and better for the environment.

What would our food supply look like without livestock production?

Researchers at the University of Arizona1 addressed that question using a simulated model to study what would happen if livestock were removed from the U.S. agricultural system. Although shifting the food system totally to plant-based foods would be an extreme and unlikely undertaking, the research underscores the critical importance of livestock production to human diets and a healthy economy.

Here’s what the researchers concluded based on their non-animal food system model:

  • Although plant-only agriculture produced 23 percent more food, it did not meet the population’s essential nutrient needs. Animal-derived foods currently provide almost half of the protein and a quarter of the energy available for human consumption in the U.S.A plant-only diet would require more overall food production—and higher food consumption—to achieve the same level of nutrition that comes from an omnivore diet.
  • The U.S. livestock industry employs 1.6 million people who would lose their jobs without animal agriculture.
  • Livestock utilize more than 43 billion kgs of food and fiber processing byproducts, which are not edible by humans, and turn them into human-edible food, pet food and other products. Furthermore, animals produce 4 billion kg of nitrogen fertilizer for U.S. crop production. These opportunities would be lost without livestock.
  • Eliminating livestock production reduced U.S. greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions only by 2.6 percent.
  • The bottom line: Even though removing animals would reduce GHG emissions, a plants-only food system would not support the U.S. population’s nutritional needs.

Livestock production clearly is critical to global economies and human health. A sustainable food system depends on having both plants and animals providing affordable, nutritious and safe food options.

But how does the industry answer its critics when it comes to GHG emissions?

It’s important to realize that improved productivity reduces environmental impact per unit of food produced. As output per animal increases, fewer animals are needed per kg of meat, eggs and milk produced. Fewer animals means lower energy use, less land required for feed production and decreased methane emissions.

In the U.S. the carbon footprint of livestock has decreased dramatically in recent decades, due to improved productivity and efficiency. Check these facts2:

  • In 1950 there were 25 million dairy cows in the U.S., compared to 9 million cows in 2019 producing 60 percent more total milk than in 1950
  • In some countries it takes up to 20 cows to equal the amount of milk produced by one cow in the U.S.
  • Today in the U.S., 90 million beef cattle produce the same amount of beef as 140 million beef cattle did in 1970

Greater efficiency comes from improved fertility, genetics and animal health, as well as advancements in nutrition. At ARM & HAMMER we work every day to develop science-based solutions that improve livestock production and generate greater efficiency, helping the global livestock industry meet demand for sustainable food choices.

 

1 White R, Hall MB. Nutritional and greenhouse gas impacts of removing animals from U.S. agriculture. PNAS Nov. 28, 2017. 114 (48) E10301-E10308.  https://www.pnas.org/content/114/48/E10301.abstract   Accessed May 22, 2019.

2 Facts and fiction: Debunking myths about livestock’s environmental impact. Ag Relations Council webinar presented by Frank Mitloehner, PhD, University of California-Davis, Jan. 19, 2019.

 

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