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Study reveals dramatic differences in livestock's contribution to climate change

Pork and poultry are more efficient at converting feed into protein than cattle, sheep and goats (© ILRI)
Pork and poultry are more efficient at converting feed into protein than cattle, sheep and goats
© ILRI

The amount of greenhouse gases livestock emit varies dramatically depending on the animal, the type of food it provides, the kind of feed it consumes and where it lives, a new study has revealed. The study states that livestock in many developing countries require more food to produce a kilo of protein than animals in wealthy countries due to lower-quality, but more environmentally sustainable, diets. "Our data allows us to see more clearly where we can work with livestock keepers to improve animal diets so they can produce more protein with better feed while simultaneously reducing emissions," says Petr Havlik, co-author of the study.

"There's been a lot of research focused on the challenges livestock present at the global level, but if the problems are global, the solutions are almost all local and very situation-specific," explains Mario Herrero, the lead author. "Our goal is to provide the data needed so that the debate over the role of livestock in our diets and our environments and the search for solutions to the challenges they present can be informed by the vastly different ways people around the world raise animals."

The study, published by scientists from ILRI, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) and the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA), also reveals that pork and poultry are more efficient at converting feed into protein than cattle, sheep and goats, and that cattle account for 77 per cent of the total greenhouse emissions from livestock globally, compared to 10 per cent for pork and poultry. "The large differences in efficiencies in the production of different livestock foods warrant considerable attention," the authors state. "Knowing these differences can help us define sustainable and culturally appropriate levels of consumption of milk, meat and eggs." However the authors also say that the vital importance of livestock production for nutritional security and incomes in many parts of the world must also be taken into consideration.

Date published: January 2014

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