Environmental Impact of Meat Production

Newsletter No. 30 – September 2005 Item 4 & 5

Environmental Impact
Dr. Elam's discussions relate to making a case that the increased production can come only from intensive farming operations, that anything different will put too much pressure on feed supplies.  Sheep, Cattle and Goats can graze areas that it is not possible to cultivate and it may be possible to improve the efficiency of these grazing areas with better management, including water management.  These issues are discussed by Terry McCosker in the Australian Farm Journal.

However, it is clearly evident that the introduction of the intensive systems for rearing pigs and poultry has had a significant impact on the availability of increased volumes of meat at decreasing consumer prices as these systems are highly efficient.  The increased use of Cattle Feed lots in the United States to finish cattle for the last 90 days on high grain diets has enabled the US Beef industry to produce increased meat tonnage from the same number of cattle.  Dr. Elam stated:

Quote: "Current "organic" technology simply cannot be used to produce the feed crops we need on a global scale.  Yields are 20, 30 or even 40% below what is possible with conventional fertilizers and pesticides, make it impossible to both increase feedstuff production and use these systems on a widespread basis.  There is not enough animal manure to even come close to replacing the current sources of crop production.  Switching to green manure legume crops for nitrogen would merely reduce the land available for feed production."  End Quote

This statement is indicating that green legume crops have no productive value in the production of meat.

Ostrich require as much as 40% Dehydrated Lucerne in a grower ration, when the Lucerne is of the right quality, when fed controlled production rations. Lucerne is a legume and an important component in any crop rotation cycle as it fixes nitrogen in the soil, reducing the need for artificial fertilizers.  Poultry and Pig production is highly dependent on grains to produce the meat, with little or no quality forage included in their diets.  Therefore Ostrich production can help support the production of grain crops produced with reduced input of artificial fertilizers.  The use of high quality Lucerne also reduces the requirement for high protein Soya, thus reducing costs of production whilst improving health and feed efficiency.

Chemical and Pharmaceutical Contributions to Meat Production
Dr. Elam discusses the major technological contributors that have enabled the dramatic increase in food production at affordable prices:

I.   Pharmaceuticals:  Animal health products and programs
examples: Antibiotics, Implants, Parasiticides, Vaccines, Disease Control Programs
II.  Genetics
examples:  Selective breeding programs, identifying most productive breeds
III.  Nutrition
examples: improved feedstuff quality, vitamins, minerals, amino acids
IV. Crop Yields
examples: Improved management systems, artificial fertilisers, herbicides, fungicides.

All the above have contributed to the ability to produce increased tonnages of food at reducing cost.  Questions are being asked now on the impact on human health and sustainability if we continue producing food with such dependency on the chemicals and many of the pharmaceuticals.  Reduced efficiency of antibiotics as there are increasingly resistant strains of bacteria developing, hormone implants affecting the development of our children and parasites developing resistance to some Parasiticides are examples.

It is clear we cannot manage without some of these technological advances; however there have been significant advances in other areas that enable reduced dependency on pharmaceuticals and chemical inputs, without loss of production and increasing efficiency.  Nutrition has made tremendous advances over the past 20 or so years that many health problems can now be controlled or prevented through nutrition rather than antibiotics. This statement applies to humans as well as livestock production.  Antibiotics will still have a role to play in treatment but used with far more caution; vaccines will always have an important role as part of disease prevention programs.

As referenced above growing Ostrich require around 40% of their production rations to be dehydrated Lucerne - a legume.  The ability to produce large volumes of meat efficiently from Lucerne will enable greater acreages to be planted with this crop that fixes nitrogen in the soil and forms an important part of any crop rotational program to reduce the dependency on artificial fertilisers.   The development of No-Till agriculture is another technological development that continues to reduce the dependency on chemical inputs whilst retaining high volume of out put.  No-till agriculture uses less fuel with fewer passes over the land thus reducing input costs without loss of production.  Biogas technology is enabling better use of waste to reduce dependency on artificial fertilisers.   All these factors are technological developments that combine to help reduce dependency on chemical inputs, without risking loss of production or increasing costs.

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