by Luisiana Gaita (Il Fatto Quotidiano)
Photo by Mary Winchester via Unsplash
This article was published previously in Italian here https://www.ilfattoquotidiano.it/2021/04/27/consumo-di-carne-la-realpolitik-della-fao-a-livello-globale-crescera-condividere-tecnologie-per-la-sostenibilita-coi-paesi-in-via-di-sviluppo/6154204/
Meat consumption, the realpolitik of FAO: “It will grow globally. Sharing sustainability technologies with developing countries”
THE INTERVIEW - Dr Aimable Uwizeye, Livestock Policy Officer: "The livestock sector contributes 15% of total greenhouse gas emissions, uses 15% of the land that emerged as pasture and 40% of the farmland for feed production. But the path to sustainability depends on the context. In developing countries, animals are also a form of social protection for times of difficulty. And it is more difficult to access productive inputs, credit, knowledge, technologies"
While scientific studies and international reports tell us to follow balanced food regimes that provide for greater consumption of vegetables than meat and while the FAO proclaims 2021 the International Year of Fruits and Vegetables, the global market follows its course and goes in the opposite direction. It is estimated that the livestock sector will grow 74% over the next ten years in low- and middle-income countries, while globally the number of farmed animals will increase by about 50% by 2050. Under current conditions, our planet cannot afford it. After the raising of shields aroused by the words of the Minister of Ecological Transition, Roberto Cingolani, on the need to reduce meat consumption and the publication of an independent study on the hidden costs of meat consumption in Italy carried out for Lav (Alloy Anti Vivisezione) by the non-profit organization Demetra and presented exclusively (if you are not yet a Support Last year he led a team of researchers in a study of nitrogen emissions caused by farms (a third of those induced by humans). Moreover, the Fao has repeatedly expressed concern about a demand met by large-scale intensive farming systems and the impacts of these systems. But although the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations supports balanced food regimes, such as the Mediterranean Diet (based on the consumption of a rich variety of plant foods and moderate amounts of fish and meat), compared to the consumption of meat for Uwizeye there cannot be a single ‘recipe’ for rich and developing countries. A perspective that also reflects in the light of the recent report by Greenpeace Marketing Meat, according to which in five years the European Commission has spent 32% of the entire budget of the programme for the promotion of European agricultural products to promote meat and dairy products. Money with which projects to reach new consumers of European pork and beef in countries such as Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana are also being financed.
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Is the growth of meat production and consumption sustainable?
The world’s consumption of meat and dairy products is set to grow due to several factors: higher incomes, urbanization, global population growth, and changes in eating habits. This means that we will have to find ways to reduce the environmental impact of the entire agricultural sector and, in particular, of livestock farming. The livestock sector today contributes 15% of total greenhouse gas emissions, uses 15% of the land that has emerged as pasture and 40% of the cultivated land for feed production. However, the increase in meat and dairy consumption will also lead to increased investment in the sector, the widening of the cold chain and the increase in international trade in inputs and livestock products. This growth will allow farmers to have higher incomes and, in some countries, will lead to greater food security.
In the State of Food Security and Nutrition 2020 report, the FAO argues that healthy diets “present important opportunities, in some contexts, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions” because they are rich in foods of plant origin and are attributable to lower levels of emissions “compared to those that involve higher consumption of red meat”, but that this may not be the solution in areas where the population
Meat consumption depends on issues of need, access and choice. Animal products are rich in nutrients, energy sources and high-quality proteins and provide a number of essential micronutrients that, for some populations and in some countries or contexts, are difficult to obtain in adequate quantities from plant-based foods alone.
Does this mean that there cannot be the same recipe globally, for industrialized and developing countries?
It is important to bear in mind that for many farmers livestock is not only a source of food, but can be a fundamental economic resilience asset and a form of social protection for times of difficulty. Many use livestock for transport, to plow the fields, and exploit their feces as fertilizer. If animal products provide what, in some areas, would be difficult to have otherwise, at the same time it should be remembered that meat consumption levels vary enormously from country to country, ranging from about 12 kilograms per year per person in Africa, to 95 kilograms in North America.
Is in vitro grown meat or vegetable meat the future? Alternative protein is a large-growing sector, which has seen significant investments in different solutions, such as vegetable meat or that grown in the laboratory, but also insects, microbes and fungi. They are products that must meet the same health standards as other foods, but it is up to the national authorities to approve their marketing.
In the meantime, how do you reduce the impacts of farms? The farming systems in the world are very different from each other and many have ample room for improvement in the use of natural resources. There are already technical and political solutions that can improve the efficiency of all producers, both large and small. Diversity is a force and we must build different solutions based on this force. We could reduce greenhouse gas emissions from livestock by 30% by adopting good practices and reducing efficiency gaps.
The issue of livestock is associated with the enormous need for feed to feed these animals and, consequently, the problem of monoculture and soil consumption.
A considerable part of the grain and soybean crops in the world are used as feed. They are products that are traded internationally and are often associated with environmental problems, such as deforestation. To achieve sustainability we will have to reduce the dependence of the livestock sector by adopting different solutions, possibly available locally. In addition, these products can be replaced with synthetic amino acids, enzymes, additives, food waste and waste, and alternative proteins. An example? The use of food waste in pig farming can reduce the use of soybeans and cereals and the competition between food and feed production. A solution that countries like Japan and South Korea are already successfully practicing.
What about emissions?
Agroecology-based regenerative grazing systems have demonstrated the ability to support food security while promoting biodiversity, soil and air quality, improving soil capacity to absorb nitrogen and reducing emissions. Scientists are already working on approaches to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the digestion of ruminants by proposing solutions that can cut methane emissions by up to 80%.
Just in recent days, a study by researchers from the University of California was published, according to which adding algae to cattle feed could reduce emissions from farms by up to 82%. But for more complex techniques, isn’t there an access problem in certain areas of the Planet?
The path to the sustainability of agri-food systems is firmly linked to the local context. The approaches to achieving this are similar, but in low- and middle-income countries, issues such as access to productive inputs, credit, knowledge, technology are much more complex. Not to mention the great diversity of their breeding systems. So the timeline to achieve the sustainability goals is different, but it is crucial that all those involved in this effort participate in it. In Ecuador, for example, FAO is helping dozens of vulnerable farmers in different provinces to raise their livestock by coping, among other things, with soil degradation and climate change. It is important that the technical solutions available today are made accessible to all through training and technology transfer and that incentives are aimed at reducing the environmental impact of the sector, adopting good health and livestock practices and supporting the recycling and reuse of waste and other biomass.
However, according to Eurostat data, around 72% of the animals reared in Europe come from large intensive farms which, among other things, only those that have so far benefited from the largest contributions. And there are several investigations that show that, often, in these farms health practices are insufficient and livestock practices are far from sustainable. What is the contribution of these farms to greenhouse gas emissions?
The matter is a bit complicated. The analysis conducted with FAO’s Global Livestock Environmental Assessment Model (GLEAM) shows that the livestock supply chain in Western Europe contributes approximately 579 million tonnes of annual CO2 equivalent (approximately 7% of total emissions from livestock farming), while greenhouse gas emissions in Eastern Europe are estimated at 127 million tonnes of annual CO2 equivalent (1.5%). The analysis considers the entire life cycle of livestock products ‘from cradle to processing’ and emissions from feed imported from international markets are allocated to the country where livestock is produced. The results are different from the national statistics, because the latter focus mainly on direct emissions from livestock, while they calculate emissions related to feed production separately.
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