The subject of sustainability cropped up again and again at the Biomin World Nutrition Forum. Sustainability – successfully satisfying the human need for food, feed and fiber – can be approached in a number of ways.
Frank Mitloehner of the University of California Davis, looked at the impact of livestock production on climate change.
He noted that, in California, people are really thinking about the impact of their food choices on climate change, and that everyone wants to know their carbon footprint. With this in mind, it is important for both consumers and producers to fully understand what their carbon footprint actually is. With consumers able to pick and choose from whom they buy, ignorance on the production side is ever less an option.
Mitloehner looked at emissions from various countries, comparing footprints, and pointing out the huge diversity in genetics and management practices from country to country that can lead to this disparity. However, in addition to varying practices, he also raised the need for a standard way of measuring carbon footprints, to ensure that like is compared to like.
The harmonization of methodologies has started, and the FAO has begun a benchmarking initiative.
While it may seem like commonsense once explained, many in the general public fail to understand how modern and intensive farming methods can reduce carbon footprints. The more that a single animal produces, the smaller the carbon footprint attributable to the amount of meat produced, and the opposite is true for animals with low productivity. Improved management of health, genetics, and fertility will lead to comparatively lower numbers of animals to feed to growing populations.
“The long shadow of livestock in not inevitable, but the result of long-standing neglect,” he said, adding that the global mitigation potential of technical and structural options is very large.
David J. Caldwell, this year’s winner of the Biomin Brain Award, detailed his work on how changes in meat production can reduce the use of antimicrobials. His talk followed two strands – the improvement of existing practices and the development of new technologies.
He cited the need to develop alternatives to antibiotic growth promoters along with the increasing use of vaccination in the US to tackle coccidiosis in poultry. Between 2000 and 2011, the percentage of birds vaccinated in the country against coccidiosis rose from 2.5 percent to 30 percent.
Conflict and contradiction?
Yet how can a company that flies participants from 75 countries to a single location reconcile this with offering a platform to those arguing that the livestock industry must be more sustainable?
There is no hypocrisy here. The company’s Andreas Kern explained that Biomin conducted a life cycle analysis for the entire event, and all emissions produced by the participants’ travel, consumption of electricity and food, and local transportation, were included.
To offset these CO2 emissions by a sustainable means, a 200 kVp photovoltaic plant will be installed at its new factory close to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. On top of this, all office and laboratory buildings in the new factory will receive an additional layer of insulation and a “green roof” system to reduce the energy needed to run the air conditioning system, helping the environment and reducing demand from the country’s electricity grid.