In June 2013 I attended a conference that discussed food availability. With austerity measures kicking in within Europe adding to the concerns of feeding growing populations discussions were focused on the fact that there is not a shortage of food, the challenge is rather how to make it available to all regardless of wealth/ability to pay.
Here we discussed the FAO publication of 2009 and with some discussions relating to land that is suitable for grazing livestock but not suitable for arable agriculture. There is a section in the FAO document discussing such things as the impact of livestock production on climate change, gas emissions, impact on ecosystems and diversion of arable crops to animals instead of directly to humans. There is no doubt that we have heard much about the dangerous levels of gas emissions from livestock. How serious a concern is this? The article “Is the Claim about Methane Valid?” concludes:
So, now we know that like CO2, methane is not a major threat to either the planet or to the life on it. And as cattle and other livestock fertilise and improve the health and quality of the soil on which we all depend for the food that sustains us, perhaps we should think about eating more meat rather than less.
And while we are doing that, as there is no point in wasting what is a very useful source of cheap energy, we could collect methane from cowsheds and from waste dumps. That way, small local methane power plants could easily supply local power needs, and the very heavy cost of power stations could be reduced.
This TED presentation by Allan Savory is extremely interesting viewing on regeneration of dessert areas through grazing livestock and his research definitely needs consideration in this discussion.
In such a discussion, the manure of livestock is excellent to help maintain soil health and productivity. The forages provided by legumes, such as lucerne, fix nitrogen in the soil, thus minimising the need for additional nitrogen fertilisers when such crops are used as part of a sound crop rotation program. In some areas where the land is suitable pigs maintained outdoors are used very successfully as part of a crop rotation cycle.
When man has a diet based on animal products with minimal grains and other carbohydrated sources, the food consumption tends to be far less than a diet based on food from vegetable sources. Also, food from vegetable sources requires more preparation, especially grains as we see in the modern food processing industry. Traditionally these foods were fermented, but today we have food processors manufacturing many different products from our grains with manufacturing processes requiring resources that could be conserved if we had less dependency on these foods. Many of these foods are so devoid of nutrients they require vitamins and minerals added to them. Grains fed to improve the diets of our livestock as a balance with good forages, are utilised more efficiently. As we mention regularly, Ostrich have the potential to be extremely efficient converters of food to meat protein when fed quality rations.
So it is clear that livestock production carried out efficiently offers significant potential to support our environment, rather than a contributor to global warming.