Better livestock diets to combat climate change and improve food security

Better livestock diets to combat climate change and improve food security
Better diets for livestock could cut greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 23 percent by 2030. Credit: International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI)

Livestock production is responsible for 12% of human-related greenhouse gas emissions, primarily coming from land use change and deforestation caused by expansion of agriculture, as well as methane released by the animals themselves, with a lesser amount coming from manure management and feed production.

"There is a lot of discussion about reduction of meat in the diets as a way to reduce emissions," says IIASA researcher Petr Havlík, who led the study "But our results show that targeting the production side of agriculture is a much more efficient way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions."

A new study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences shows that within the current systems, farmers would find it more profitable in coming years to expand livestock production in mixed systems—where livestock are fed on both grass as well as higher quality feed—rather than in pure grass-based systems. This development, would lead to a 23% reduction of emissions from land use change in the next two decades without any explicit climate mitigation policy.

Cows, sheep, and goats grow more quickly and produce more milk when they eat energy-rich diets that include grain supplements or improved forages. This means that more livestock can be raised on less land, and with fewer emissions per pound of meat or milk produced.

The new study projects that the increasing cost of land and continued yield increases in the crop sector will lead to shifts to richer animal diets in the future. Such diets are efficient not only from the perspective of greenhouse gas reduction, but also from farm profit maximization and food production.

At a moderate price of US$10 per ton of carbon dioxide equivalent, livestock system transitions within a given region, together with international relocation of production to regions with the most efficient livestock systems could also reduce the total emissions from agriculture and land use change by 25%. Most of the savings would come from avoided land use change.

Havlík says, "From the livestock sector perspective, limiting land use change seems the cheapest option both in terms of the economic cost and in terms of impact on food availability."

Previous work by the group produced a detailed database highlighting the differences in the efficiency and greenhouse gas emissions of different livestock production systems. The new study adds to this by examining the economic potential for a transition to more efficient systems as a mitigation measure, and which policies would be the most effective for cutting greenhouse gas emissions, while also maintaining food availability.

The new study also introduces a new metric for measuring the costs of climate measures for agricultural systems, the Total Abatement Calorie Cost (TACC), which complements the pure economic metric known as "marginal abatement cost" while also capturing the impacts of mitigation measures on food security. Mario Herrero, a co-author of the study and a researcher at CSIRO, IIASA's Australian National Member Organization, says, "Applying current metrics could lead to mitigation, but also food insecurity in developing countries, because it ignores the social cost of policies that focus just on abatement.. So we developed a new metric which tells you how consumption would be affected as a result of mitigating ."

Changing systems remains a challenge. The researchers say that policies to provide education and market access are the keys for enabling change. In addition, they note that safeguards are needed to insure that the intensified agricultural production does not lead to environmental damage or reduce animal well-being.

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New study addresses trade-offs between food security and climate change mitigation

More information: PNAS DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1308044111
Provided by International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis
Citation: Better livestock diets to combat climate change and improve food security (2014, February 24) retrieved 16 September 2019 from
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Feb 25, 2014
yea...apart from the fact cows don't fare very well with carbohydrates and sugars. This can cause intestinal problems that need to be cured with antibiotics, which are not allowed in meat or diary consumption. Apart from that sugar/carbohydrate rich food increases the ureum levels in the milk, making it not particularly tasty and unfit for quality milk/cheese/yoghurt and other diary products.

A healthy cow is a grass fed cow, perhaps extended with some linum and beer residue. Corn should definitely be avoided!

We are what we eat, but also what our food eats!

Feb 25, 2014
less land is a no go too and I see no real benefit in reducing it!

a healthy animal is an animal that is able to move freely, I live in one of the worlds densest populated countries, but there's enough room for those good little beasts to roam freely.

Take in account that the western world throws away ridiculous amounts of good food (90 million Kg a year in Europe alone) and eat more than we really need, perhaps we indeed should consider eating a little less meat in favour of more quality meat (and diary).

Mar 05, 2014
Managed rotational grazing is key. Unfortunately they forgot pigs, chickens, ducks and geese. All of these can be raised purely on pasture. All of these are also capable of utilizing human 'waste' food products such as pre-consumer wastes turning these 'waste' streams as well as pasture into high quality protein and lipids (meat!).

Our family raises pigs, chickens, ducks, geese and often sheep without any commercial grain based feeds. The vast majority of what our animals eat is pasture. As available they also get 'waste' whey from a nearby cheese maker that is too small to be able to dry the way for human consumption (that requires a high volume and expensive equipment). We have also raised groups of pigs just on pasture without the whey or anything else - it simply means a little longer growth time to get to market weight.

Studies like this ignore that pigs, chickens and other animals can also be raised on pasture just like cows, sheep and goats. Cud chewing is not a requirement.

Mar 06, 2014
More crap from Ecoloons and communist Elite. Carbon Dioxide is the most important and the most limited plant nutrient. It has nothing to do with Global Climate Changes. This insane demand to control carbon is a mantra of a religious cult that wants to control everything and everyone.
We don't need them! pg

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