Fri, Apr 09, 2010 - Page 8 News List

How to ‘green’ livestock farming

By Chou Chin-Cheng 周晉澄

A report published in 2006 by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization, Livestock’s Long Shadow, noted that livestock farming produces great quantities of greenhouse gases such as methane, nitrous oxide and carbon dioxide, accounting for up to 18 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions.

The November-December 2009 issue of World Watch magazine went even further by factoring in data for both direct and indirect emissions generated by livestock farming — pushing the figure up to 51 percent.

However, much of the data behind these figures come from cross-sector sources and because the contribution made by each individual sector has not yet been accurately calculated, further revisions are likely. For this reason, University of California researcher Frank Mitloehner said that blaming climate change on cows and pigs was not scientifically accurate.

Still, if someone were to claim that reducing livestock farming and consumption of meat would have an adverse impact on the climate, that would be even more dubious.

Meat production worldwide has grown by about 5 percent per year for the past 30 years. Most of this increase has taken place in developing countries, where production has roughly quadrupled.

Although consumption of meat per person in industrialized countries is three to four times that of people in developing nations, more than half of the world’s meat is now produced and consumed in the latter.

Most notably, China’s ­consumption of meat has more than doubled in the past 20 years.

If production continues to grow at this rate, there will be a major increase in industrialized livestock factories and more land will be used to grow maize and grass for animal feed. Much of this land will be in areas that originally had few human inhabitants, but plenty of trees.

Virgin forests and grassland that store carbon will be developed, increasing greenhouse gas emissions and disrupting the Earth’s carbon cycle between animals and plants.

Eating less meat, riding bicycles and cutting consumption are effective ways of slowing the rapid pace of global warming, but Taiwanese like eating meat, as evidenced by their average per capita consumption of 77kg a year.

This is in the same range as countries in European and the Americas and much higher than consumption levels in developed countries such as Japan and South Korea. Taiwanese also eat fewer grains and vegetables than people in those countries.

The demand for animal protein is not likely to disappear overnight, but we could adjust the amount and variety of our diet, reducing the total consumption of meat and red meat especially.

Global warming is likely to increase the incidence and spread of diseases carried by arthropods (insects and ticks). Floods generated by abnormal weather may scour pastures and cause contamination by effluents, breaking down established management systems, introducing new infectious diseases and reviving older ones.

In recent years, there has been one outbreak after another of what used to be rare contagious diseases that can cross between humans and livestock. The prevalence and spread of such illnesses between different territories may be related to climate-induced factors. Some areas in Taiwan experienced the spread and reappearance of epidemic diseases following floods brought on by Typhoon Morakot last August. There is clearly an urgent need for people from different sectors to get together and ask whether existing pastures are suitable for raising livestock and how to prevent the spread of disease.

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