Ex Director General  José Graziano da Silva
Artículo de opinion del Director General de la FAO José Graziano da Silva

Over the last 30 years, the consumption of meat, milk and eggs in low and middle-income countries (LMICs) has more than tripled. Population growth, urbanization, income gains and globalization continue to fuel what could be called as the “livestock revolution”.

According to the latest FAO projections, meat demand in LMICs will increase by a further 80 percent by 2030 and by over 200 percent by 2050. Livestock agri-food systems are cranking up production to meet this demand and adapting to satisfy the changing food preferences of an increasingly affluent and urbanized population.

Such rapid growth in production and trade comes not only with opportunities – it also entails risks. Growth is not even, with the majority occurring in intensive systems and with relatively little contribution from small producers. It is important to make sure that smallholders and pastoralists can participate in the sector’s growth rather than being pushed aside. 

Other risks include concerns over food and nutrition security, livelihoods and equity, health and animal welfare, and also the environment.

So how can we produce more, from a dwindling resource base, increasingly affected by climate change? How can we make sure that livestock sector growth is inclusive, environmentally friendly and safe?

Almost half of the 770 million poorest people surviving on less than $1.90 a day depend directly on animals for their livelihoods. For the poor and vulnerable, animals can increase food security, serve as flexible insurance-like assets in crisis situations, help adapt to changing climates, and provide the micronutrients (zinc, iron, etc) that protect against stunting and support the mental and physical development of young children.

Livestock also leave a major environmental footprint. They emit substantial greenhouse gases, notably methane, and contribute to biodiversity losses and water pollution.

At the same time, livestock systems also turn byproducts and waste into high value food, while well-managed grazing systems can contribute to soil carbon and better landscape management. The potential is particularly large in developing countries. Optimized feed mixes, breeding and other known technologies can rapidly reduce the release of methane, a short-lived climate pollutant, thus offering quick and appreciable gains in mitigating climate change. Animal husbandry, together with regenerative grassland management and restoration plans, can boost soil carbon. Rotation among pasture lands, and also alternating grazing and crop cultivation, are very useful for the health of soils. At the climate summit in Bonn last November (COP 23), countries agreed to accelerate efforts to incorporate livestock into their climate change efforts.

We also need to focus on healthy diets. That means increasing access to animal products to people in need while discouraging excessive consumption and food waste. Of note here is that per capita meat consumption in Germany and the United States of America is 16 times higher than that of Bangladesh and Ethiopia.

Animal health and animal welfare, which is linked to human health, is another important area of work. The emergence of diseases will likely intensify in the coming years, as rising temperatures favour the proliferation of insects.  

Zoonotic diseases with pandemic potential pose a big threat for people, animals and the environment. This is the case of some strains of avian influenza, as well as trade-related diseases such as foot-and-mouth disease.

We also the need to tackle antimicrobial resistance (AMR). The abuse, overuse and misuse of antibiotics and other antimicrobials in livestock are exacerbating the threats posed by AMR. In fact, antimicrobial consumption by livestock is almost three times as much as the human intake of antibiotics.

FAO recommends that antimicrobials should be only used to cure diseases and alleviate unnecessary suffering. Only under strict circumstances, they could be used to prevent an imminent threat of infection. And antimicrobial medicines used for growth promotion should be phased out immediately.

So to optimize the contribution of the livestock sector to sustainable development, a holistic approach should be adopted, combining social, economic, environmental, health and nutrition measures.