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Sustainable livestock production - Professor Andrew Balmford

Abstract:

Livestock have enormous economic and cultural value but also a major environmental footprint. Livestock production occupies 45% of the planet’s terrestrial land area, contributes 14.5% of anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions, and negatively impacts biodiversity through habitat destruction and fragmentation, overgrazing, nitrogen pollution, disease, and climate change (1).    As global demand for meat and dairy products is forecast to increase by 50% over the next 35 years, it is of critical importance to identify farming practices that increase livestock production while reducing its environmental impacts. This project will identify strategies for sustainable livestock farming in Europe through the conceptual framework of the land sparing/land sharing model (2). While extensive farming systems, such as those promoted by the EU's EUR 5 billion agri-environment payment schemes, may integrate some biodiversity within farms (i.e. land sharing), lower yields also require a larger area of land to be farmed for the same level of production, thereby reducing the land available for wild nature. For a given quantity of livestock products, we may in fact support greater biodiversity and ecosystem services by farming a smaller area of land intensively, and managing land that is freed up primarily for nature (i.e. land sparing).     This research project will consider which livestock production systems support the greatest biodiversity and ecosystem service delivery and thereby identify a roadmap for sustainable livestock production in Europe.

References:

  1. R. S. Reid et al., in Livestock in a Changing Landscape. Drivers, Consequences, and Responses, H. Steinfeld, Ed. (Island Press, 2010), vol. 1, pp. 111 – 137. 
  2. R. E. Green, S. J. Cornell, J. P. W. Scharlemann, A. Balmford, Farming and the fate of wild nature, Science 307, 550–555 (2005).