Meet to eat Meat

“The way you cut your meat reflects the way you live” — Anonymous

I am vegetarian by choice, so my meat eating friends ridicule me calling -grass eater! I can’t hate them for their food choices. I truly believe what Mahatma Gandhi said, “I have known many meat eaters to be far more non-violent than vegetarians “.

For past 30 years I have been working at a livestock research institute, where I hear about meat almost every day. Yet, it was very interesting for me to listen, “ Is low carbon meat possible?” Possibilities were discussed here to minimize negative impacts of livestock raising on environment. This side event, “Options for low carbon meat production in a science-policy format”, co –organized by Global Agenda for Sustainable Livestock, Government of New Zealand and the Government of Ethiopia was really worth attending for me. I often wonder, livestock are accused for polluting the environment, should they really be blamed? I guess no.

I have seen in developing countries like India, with growing income people tend to consume more and better quality foods, that includes more meat- a sign of one’s richness. The growing populations, rising affluence and urbanization are causing increased demand for livestock products in many developing countries. While in developed North, per capita meat consumption is already higher since long. Global demand is projected to increase by 70 percent to feed a population estimated to reach 9.6 billion by 2050. We know much of this rising demand is being met by rapidly expanding modern forms of intensive livestock production, while traditional systems also continue to exist. Can we really sustain without livestock? Not really. Can we afford a polluted environment?  Not really too. If I ask you, eat no or less meat, you may not appreciate, because meat is something which many people love most among all foods. But, you would also not like to die due to polluted environment. A complex situation indeed.

Livestock offer opportunities to an estimated 1 billion poor that depend on livestock for food and income. We all benefit from livestock one way or other like high value food rich in nutrition and many other economic and multiple social functions. But, its resource use implications too are enormous. Animals are the world’s largest user of agricultural land, through grazing and the use of feed crops. Also, they play a major role in climate change, management of land and water, and biodiversity. Among the wide range of implications, emissions are currently on the top- so intensively discussed at various forums, no wonder here too.

There is growing optimism that emissions can be reduced through improvements in productivity with concomitant decreases in emission intensity.  Around the world, meat production varies widely, from extensive pastoralist or ranching to intensive production of pork and poultry, and beef feedlot.  Accordingly, GHG emission intensity (emission per unit of output) differs widely, even among producers in the same area. Emission intensity often can be reduced by increasing animal productivity through better feed, genetics and health care.  Such productivity-raising measures also have the potential to raise food production and income, and spur rural development, many among the participants felt. 

Grasslands and rangelands cover almost 70% of the global agricultural land, and have the potential to sequester carbon into the soil if appropriate grazing management practices are followed. The available evidences suggest that well managed grasslands can capture carbon, thereby generating offsets that reduce net emissions.  Biomass production is typically higher in grazed rather than ungrazed pastures, and grazing reduces fire (open burning) and contributes to biodiversity. However, a large part of pasture, in particular in tropical regions, is degraded because of overgrazing, institutional weaknesses and lack of technical options at local level. Emissions can also be reduced by integrating livestock better via regenerative systems-the circular economy, said Mr Carlos Sere of Bioversity International, Italy. He nicely explained why and how circularity is the key to reduced GHG emissions.

It is important to ensure that the continuing demand expansion for livestock products does not increase pressure on natural resources and contributes to socially desirable outcomes. This is where events like this are expected to help make further adjustments and improvements in sector policies, governance and investments. The gathering to my surprise was impressive reflecting the importance of livestock and its multiple products in our life.

The recent emphasis on climate change, pollution and land degradation has made it even more important. Livestock and humans have to co-exist in best possible harmony with reduced negative impact on environment. Ms Maria Helena Semedo, the FAO Representative, while chairing the session assured the participants that FAO is not running away from the challenge but seriously working on the solutions and seek the cooperation of all stakeholders at different levels.

Finally, I would say, it’s not the livestock, but we humans can make the much needed difference in saving the environment. Let’s do livestock farming a bit more responsibly and continue enjoying the meat bites!

This post covers the #CFS44 side event " Is low carbon meat possible? Options for low carbon meat production in a science-policy format".

Blogpost by Mahesh Chander - #CFS44 Social Reporter – mchanderivri(at)gmail.com
Picture credit: Kwitaly on Pixabay

This post is part of the live coverage during the 44th Session of the Committee on World Food Security , a social media project supported by GFAR. This post is written by one of our social reporters, and represents the author’s views only.

13/10/2017 7:55

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