Living with Livestock and its Shadow

Chair: Luppo Diepenbroek (PFLA)

Speaker: Mark Eisler (Professor of Global Farm Animal Health, University of Bristol).


Cabot Institute at University – deals with food security and associated issues. Also the Food Security Land Research Alliance.

Population is the biggest issue facing the planet.

By 2050 we will have 50 billion people with the biggest increase in Africa and Asia. We are ‘half a planet’ short to maintain consumption levels with this scenario.

Livestock’s Long Shadow (2009) – important report by Henning Steinfeld– see slide. This was superseded by Tackling Climate Change through Livestock by Gerber (2013)

Beef consumption has a much higher environmental cost than other livestock.

In Canada there is an argument that feedlot systems do not contribute as many emissions as cattle raised on pasture.

Biodiversity loss and the nitrogen cycle are more worrying than climate change.

See: Catastrophic Shifts in Ecosystems – Scheffer et al, Nature 2001.

We are about to undergo such a catastrophic shift.

Pie graph showing vertebrate life consists of 2/3 livestock, 1/3 humans and a small amount of wildlife 3%.

Water security – need to look at the cost of treatment due to nitrate in our water supplies.

We have nitrate and phosphate pollution in coastal areas.

We are dealing with a multi-faceted problem.

Two options:

  1. Land sharing – is it better to farm in an integrated way?
  2. Land sparing – is it more efficient to carry out polluting activities separately?

‘Sustainable Intensification’ – a lot of people struggle with this. It is in danger of becoming a cliché or box-ticking exercise (research programme funded by DEFRA).

‘Intensive Sustainability’ is actually a better term even if it means reducing productivity.

Steps to Sustainable Livestock’ Nature March 2012

It is very important for human health to keep animals healthy.

Regionally appropriate animals should be favoured- see the problems with Holsteins in slides below.

Question from audience regarding mega-dairies – ME: there are pros and cons – ‘I am not wedded to these being good or bad’. Total Mixed Ration fed in these usually comes from soy products in South America.

Question from PFLA member: There was no mention of soil in the whole talk. ME: Yes, I admit I have not looked at soil for most of my career.

Chris Jones (PFLA member): Thousands of years ago, how many ruminants were on the planet yet we did not have global warming. ME: Yes, the answer is complex.


Share This