BY KATIE VALENTINE ON SEPTEMBER 26, 2013 AT 4:09 PM
Emissions from livestock can be cut by 30 percent just by adopting better farming practices, according to a new report by the U.N.
The report, published Thursday by the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, found that using better, more easily-digestible feeds can reduce the amount of methane generated by ruminants like cows, and that better breeding techniques and maintenance of animals’ health can also reduce the numbers of unproductive animals in a herd. In addition, better soil management on grazing lands can increase the pasture’s ability to act as a carbon sink.
For pigs and poultry, the report found that using precision feeding — meeting the animals’ nutritional requirements, instead of overfeeding them nutrient-deficient foods — and switching to feed sources that are less energy-intensive can help reduce emissions. And for cows and poultry, using manure as fertilizer instead of storing and discarding it can help recycle nutrients back into the soil and also cut down on emissions from decomposing manure.
Livestock is responsible for 14.5 percent of the world’s emissions, according to the report. Most of those — 65 percent — come from cattle and are in the form of methane, a potent greenhouse gas that’s responsible for about 44 percent of livestock’s emissions. Forty-five percent of greenhouse gases from livestock are emitted during feed production and processing — meaning growing and shipping the corn and soy used to feed most farm animals.
The report stated that many of these recommendations had the ability to boost production as well as decrease emissions. The report recommended that governments, especially in developing countries, provide incentives to farmers to adopt these better practices, and also to increase public awareness of livestock’s role in climate change. As demand for meat, dairy and eggs continues to grow in developing nations, the FAO is urging leaders to take agriculture’s threat to climate change seriously.
“It is imperative that the sector starts working now to achieve these reductions, to help offset the increases in overall emissions that future growth in livestock production will entail,” Ren Wang, an assistant director general at the FAO told the Guardian.
There may also be other ways of decreasing livestock’s impact on the climate. Scientists are looking into tropical grasses called brachiaria, which naturally inhibit the release of nitrous oxide — a gas which, according to the FAO, is responsible for 29 percent of livestock’s emissions. They say using enhanced strains of the grass, which will be bred to have better nitrogen-fixing properties, in cattle pastures and as a rotation crop for corn and soybeans could be one of the best ways to combat livestock’s contribution to climate change.
As meat consumption in the developed world goes up, scientists are urging people in rich countries, where meat alternatives are readily available and affordable, to cut their meat consumption in half.