Agriculture and society have entered a critical phase as the global population grows in number and income while the availability of land and freshwater for agriculture diminishes.
A major challenge identified by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) in 2006 was how to double the global production of livestock products during the next few decades without increasing the environmental damage caused by livestock production and related activities.
A new Issue Paper from the Council for Agricultural Science and Technology (CAST), titled "Water and Land Issues Associated with Animal Agriculture: A U.S. Perspective", examines the livestock, land, and water issues raised by the FAO--including concerns examined in the publication titled Livestock's Long Shadow.
The authors draw heavily on published data and literature to look at current status and trends in physical and biological indicators as well as policy and both regulatory and nonregulatory approaches to addressing issues such as rising meat consumption, water quality, land degradation, feed grain demands, and the large volumes of manure.
The experts who compiled this paper cover the production of beef, dairy, pork, and poultry, and they focus on:
• policy transitions to prevent economic damage to producers and consumers;
• environmental management programs; and
• the life cycle approach and the systems approach.
The authors point out that the relationship between livestock and land and water resources is directly affected by (1) improvements in productivity registered through technological gains and intensification, (2) improvements in waste management systems and understanding of pollution processes, and (3) emerging demands on livestock production systems to address other social goals.
This paper emphasizes the need for sustained research, development, and education to dramatically increase the productivity of livestock and related systems while decreasing resource use and negative environmental effects. As the concluding line states: "Policy to ensure access to resources and education and timely distribution of food to the poorest people on the planet is needed to prevent disaster."
Task Force Authors:
• Kelly D. Zering, Chair, North Carolina State University
• Terence J. Centner, University of Georgia
• Deanne Meyer, University of California-Davis
• G. Larry Newton, University of Georgia
• John M. Sweeten, Texas A&M University System
• Steven Woodruff, Woodruff & Howe Environmental Engineering, Inc.
CAST Issue Paper 50 is available online at the CAST website, www.cast-science.org.