How what we feed livestock impacts on food security

The Impact of Industrial Grain Fed Livestock Production on Food Security: an extended literature review was published in February 2012.  The research was commissioned by Compassion in World Farming (CIWF), with funding from Compassion in World Farming, The Tubney Charitable Trust and the World Society for the Protection of Animals.

The “main messages” are as follows:

Food security encompasses four dimensions: food availability, access, utilization and stability. Food supply and availability provide the framework condition, reductions in food availability most likely result also in reductions in food security. However, increased food supply (at the macro scale) does not necessarily improve food security. The notion of food security strongly builds upon a central aspect of sustainability, i.e. long-term viability.

Food supply is a central component of the biomass production and consumption system. Livestock systems represent a highly interlinked subsystem.

Despite the obvious links between food security and the livestock sector, and the anticipated changes in the livestock sector, only a limited number of empirical or conceptual analyses are available in the literature.

Livestock plays a central role for food security, directly through, for instance, food provision and risk avoidance, and indirectly, for instance, as a means of agricultural production and through providing employment, income, a capital stock, draft power, manure, and are beneficial for local nutrient cycles. Livestock can also negatively affect food security, in particular in cases when livestock feedstuff is made up from biomass that can also be used for direct human nutrition.

Production of meat, milk and eggs requires large amounts of animal feed. In general, livestock can feed on crop products (market feed), by-products and roughage (non-market feed). Trends towards industrial livestock keeping increase the demand for crop product feed.

The intensification of livestock production is associated with a decline of multipurpose use of live animals towards an exclusive focus on the food provisioning function (commodification). Industrial livestock systems are often associated with environmental impacts such as the disruption of local nutrient cycles, biodiversity loss, and local pollution of soils, water and air.

Animal products can provide an important source of nutritional energy, protein and micronutrients and are important inputs for physical and cognitive development and health. When diversified plant products are available, varied diets without animal products can be equally healthy. Overconsumption of animal based food is associated with several health risks, including heart disease, obesity and cancer.

Monogastric species, in contrast to ruminant species, have an overall smaller area requirement, but require more cropland; this can potentially lead to land use competition (food vs. feed production). Ruminants can graze on lands which are not or only hardly suitable for growing arable crops, but have a larger overall area requirement.

A switch towards more grain feedstuff increases the input output efficiencies of livestock systems, because grains have a higher nutritional value than roughage. However, it decreases the resource base of societies, as a major function of livestock can be seen in converting non- edible resources (e.g. grass, residues) into edible ones.

Expansion of cropland for increasing food and feed supply is often associated with detrimental ecological and social consequences, such as deforestation, pressures on pastoralists, reduction of subsistence, and land use conflicts.

Positive effects of increasing market orientation of livestock systems include rising income possibilities, enhanced production levels, and (potentially) a broadening of the subsistence base of smallholders. In particular dairy production is less subject to the disadvantages of economies of scale that favour large producers.

Negative effects of increasing intensification (that often goes along with market orientation), include the reduced ability of smallholders to participate in market, in particular related to production practices that show large effects of economies of scale (e.g. poultry production). Barriers to market participation for smallholders include high transaction costs, investment risks, and food safety regulations, in particular relevant for poor smallholders. Subsidies have a similar effect, as large producers often have a better access to subsidy systems.

The on-going structural changes in livestock systems put particular pressure on pastoralist societies, which currently consist of approximately 20 million households.

In developed nations, up to two thirds of total cereal production is used as animal feed. At the global level, maize is the feed grain number one; wheat and especially rice are only used to a small degree as animal feed. Oilseed cakes, by-products in the production of vegetable oils, form a crucial protein input for livestock feedstuff. A large share of this market feed is traded internationally.

The trend towards landless livestock systems, through (international) trade in feedstuff, increases interregional interdependencies throughout the world. With regards to food security this may increase vulnerabilities of many (developing) regions to world market price shocks.

The quantity and quality of human diets is a decisive factor for any future development. More modest diets, with a lower share of animal products, tend to keep the option space open at the cropland and grazing land level. In contrast, rich, animal-based diets reduce the option space, e.g. towards a more rigorous cropland intensification pathway.

Additional area requirements that would allow for livestock roaming in intensive systems are small in comparison to the area demand of feedstuff production.

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2 Responses to How what we feed livestock impacts on food security

  1. Julie Harley says:

    This goes to say that crops for feeding livestock can affect human diet indirectly because the lesser the crops for feeding livestock the thinner the livestock therefore feeding only a portion of the human population.

  2. Alan J Wright says:

    I look forward to being part of this vital work, perhaps the January conference will show ways in which I can help

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