By 2050, an expanded world population will be consuming two-thirds more animal protein than it does today, bringing new strains on the planet’s natural resources, says a new Food and Agriculture Organization report, World Livestock 2011.
Population and income growth are fueling an ongoing trend towards greater per-capita consumption of animal protein in developing countries, and meat consumption is projected to rise nearly 73% by 2050 over current levels. Much of the future demand for livestock production will be met by large-scale, intensive animal-rearing operations. “As it stands, there are no technically or economically viable alternatives to intensive production for providing the bulk of the livestock food supply for growing cities,” says the FAO.
But such systems are a source of concern due to environmental impacts such as groundwater pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, as well as their potential to act as incubators of diseases, says the FAO. “An urgent challenge is to make intensive production more environmentally benign."
Based on existing knowledge and technology, there are three ways to do this: reduce the level of pollution generated from waste and greenhouse gases; reduce the input of water and grain needed for each output of livestock protein; and recycle agro-industrial byproducts through the livestock population.
The surge in livestock production that took place over the last 40 years resulted largely from increasing the overall number of animals being raised. But “it is hard to envisage meeting projected demand by keeping twice as many poultry, 80% more small ruminants, 50% more cattle and 40% more pigs, using the same level of natural resources as currently," says the FAO. "Rather, increases in production will need to come from improvements in the efficiency of livestock systems in converting natural resources into food and reducing waste.”
A number of additional challenges must be confronted as well, including drought, water shortages and other climate-related impacts — not to mention the threat of animal diseases, some of which may directly threaten human health, which will have to be carefully managed as livestock production is increased.
Intensive systems, and those that encroach upon forest environments or peri-urban areas without proper hygiene, are a fertile ground for new diseases — and many of them are managed in ways that are detrimental to animal health and welfare.
“It is not enough to pour funding into coping with the urgent disease threats of today," says the FAO. "Disease intelligence and epidemiological research must be financed to anticipate future diseases in the countries that produce the bulk of livestock source food.”