BRUSSELS, Belgium, Nov 21 (IPS) – The recent slowdown in sales of alternative meat products is just the latest evidence that the world is unlikely to completely abandon animal proteins in the long term.
In fact, all forecasts suggest that global consumption of meat, milk, fish and eggs will continue to increase, with some regions of the world relying on animal agriculture to fill serious protein deficiencies and meet their nutritional needs. As production is expected to increase, governments and global bodies must support the livestock sector’s efforts to become increasingly sustainable and keep climate action on track. Achieving net zero emissions while allowing an upward trend in meat production and consumption relies on achieving wholesale efficiencies, and that starts with the net positive step of improving animal health . Emissions from the livestock sector are divided into those generated directly by the digestive processes of animals and those produced indirectly by the provision of feed, land, water, medicines, transport and processing. Healthier animals are associated with lower levels of direct and indirect emissions. Reducing the spread of animal diseases, improving fertility and reproduction, and optimizing livestock feed are all proven ways to meet growing demand while supporting climate goals. This is why the UN has urged nations to make “improving animal health…one of the key action points to reduce GHG emissions”. And with additional benefits for improving animal welfare and human health, veterinary interventions offer only positive outcomes within national climate strategies, regardless of the social, political and environmental context. Growing evidence demonstrates a strong correlation between livestock diseases and emissions from animal agriculture. Disease increases emissions by lowering productivity, causing more waste, and requiring more resources to maintain production levels. When animals become ill, they fail to reach their target weight or reproduce, meaning farmers must invest in treating the animal while making up for the shortfall in production. And diseases with high mortality rates, like bird flu, mean farmers need more animals to produce the same amount of meat, milk and eggs. Recent modeling indicates that disease outbreaks in low-income countries that affect, say, 20 percent of a herd’s livestock lead to an estimated 60 percent increase in greenhouse gas emissions. Conversely, vaccinating livestock against preventable diseases can both protect animals against infection and reduce emissions attributed to each kilogram of meat or liter of milk. Reducing global disease levels by just 10 percent through vaccination and other preventive health measures would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by about 800 million tonnes, equivalent to the annual emissions of nearly 200 million people. Expanding access to animal vaccines, particularly in low-income countries, and endorsing livestock vaccination as part of public policy should therefore be on the agenda as a climate solution during of the upcoming COP28 climate negotiations. Likewise, improvements in animal husbandry can also reduce the environmental footprint of animal agriculture while increasing productivity. Digital innovations in health monitoring, such as smart tags, can make it easier for producers to accurately assess when cows are in heat and therefore more likely to successfully conceive. Not only does this minimize resources and emissions related to animal husbandry, but it also reduces stress on the animal. Meanwhile, genetic evaluations found that the “richest” 25 percent of cows produced 10 percent fewer methane emissions and required 5 percent less feed, while also producing 35 percent more milk. more. Investing in more efficient breeding programs that harness the benefits of genetic testing would also support national climate plans without compromising food supplies. Finally, it has also been shown that optimizing the quality and quantity of livestock feed helps reduce direct and indirect emissions. Growing evidence indicates that feed inhibitors and feed additives can effectively reduce methane generated when cows and sheep digest feed. And the animal health industry has significantly advanced the scientific understanding of the essential nutrition needed by livestock, meaning farmers and veterinarians can create evidence-based diets that eliminate waste and overconsumption. This eases the burden of producing feed, minimizing emissions caused by sourcing and transporting feed, while ensuring animals receive the nutrition they need to support healthy growth.
There is no downside to improving the health, fertility and nutrition of farm animals. And, as a cornerstone of the One Health concept of integrated planetary well-being, it is directly linked to the health of people and the environment. For climate negotiators looking for practical, proven and effective ways to reduce emissions while meeting future food needs ahead of this year’s COP28, livestock health measures offer a universal win-win solution.
Carel du Marchie Sarvaas is executive director of HealthforAnimals, the global animal health association
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