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Livestock & the environment

Demand for meat, milk and meat is soaring, and the world's livestock sector is growing at an unprecedented rate. This puts great pressure on the global natural resource base and, as demand continues to soar. ways must be found by which livestock production can be increased without damaging the environment in which that production has to take place. Moreover, for hundreds of millions of small, poor farmers, animal draught power and nutrient recycling through manure compensates for unattainable access to tractors and fertilizer. Livestock are often also the only capital reserve of farming households, to be sold when times are hard. Livestock, in one way or another, are critical to sustaining poor farmers. Here it is upon the many environmental benefits of keeping livestock that policies must be based. Livestock policies must, in future, ensure that the environment is not jeopardized. We ignore at our peril the interaction between livestock and the world in which we live, its natural resources and the environment on which we depend for our survival.

Livestock provide the draught power to cultivate more than one quarter of the world's arable land. 1

Livestock provide the draught power to cultivate more than one quarter of the world's arable land. 2

The consumption of livestock products is growing even faster than the increase in world population. Rising affluence, particularly in the developing countries where average real incomes have doubled since the early 60's, means that more people can afford the high-value protein that livestock products offer. Demand is soaring because there are more people with more disposable income to spend on the food they desire and, in ever greater numbers, those people are living in towns and cities. Over 80 percent of the world's population growth occurs in the cities of the developing countries, and urban populations consume more animal products than those based in rural areas.

One-fifth of the world's arable land is used for growing cereals for livestock feed.

Where animal concentrations are high, waste poses an enormous environmental hazard.

What effect is this demand for meat, milk and eggs going to have on the environment? The best way to judge this is to see what is happening now, both good and bad, and see what action could be taken to encourage extra productivity in ways that limit the had effects and enhance the good. What is certain is that the option that was available in the past, to expand the land area used for livestock to meet increased demand, is, in most situations, no longer available. Land and other resources are finite and, unless they are safeguarded, the hope of being able to increase livestock production, and thereby to satisfy the aspirations of billions of people, will fade.

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