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New report reveals the environmental and social impact of the ‘livestock revolution’

March 22, 2010

[Source: Stanford University News]

Global meat production has tripled in the past three decades and could double its present level by 2050, according to a new report on the livestock industry by an international team of scientists and policy experts. The impact of this “livestock revolution” is likely to have significant consequences for human health, the environment and the global economy, the authors conclude.

“The livestock industry is massive and growing,” said Harold A. Mooney, co-editor of the two-volume report, Livestock in a Changing Landscape (Island Press).  Mooney is a professor of biology and senior fellow at the Woods Institute for the Environment.

“This is the first time that we’ve looked at the social, economic, health and environmental impacts of livestock in an integrated way and presented solutions for reducing the detrimental effects of the industry and enhancing its positive attributes,” he said.

Among the key findings in the report are:

  • More than 1.7 billion animals are used in livestock production worldwide and occupy more than one-fourth of the Earth’s land.
  • Production of animal feed consumes about one-third of total arable land.
  • Livestock production accounts for approximately 40 percent of the global agricultural gross domestic product.
  • The livestock sector, including feed production and transport, is responsible for about 18 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions worldwide.

Impacts on humanity

Although about 1 billion poor people worldwide derive at least some part of their livelihood from domesticated animals, the rapid growth of commercialized industrial livestock has reduced employment opportunities for many, according to the report. In developing countries, such as India and China, large-scale industrial production has displaced many small, rural producers, who are under additional pressure from health authorities to meet the food safety standards that a globalized marketplace requires.

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