This report aims to assess the full impact of the livestock
sector on environmental problems, along with potential technical
and policy approaches to mitigation. The assessment is based
on the most recent and complete data available, taking into account
direct impacts, along with the impacts of feed-crop agriculture
required for livestock production. The livestock sector emerges
as one of the top two or three most significant contributors
to the most serious environmental problems, at every scale from
local to global. The findings of this report suggest that it
should be a major policy focus when dealing with problems of
land degradation, climate change and air pollution, water shortage
and water pollution and loss of bio-diversity.
Livestocks contribution to environmental problems is
on a massive scale and its potential contribution to their solution
is equally large. The impact is so significant that it needs
to be addressed with urgency. Major reductions in impact could
be achieved at reasonable cost.
Global importance of the sector
Although economically not a major global player, the livestock
sector is socially and politically very significant. It accounts
for 40 % of agricultural gross domestic product (GDP). It employs
1.3 billion people and creates livelihoods for one billion of
the worlds poor. Livestock products provide one third of
humanity's protein intake, and are a contributing cause of obesity
and a potential remedy for undernourishment.
Growing populations and incomes, along with changing food
preferences, are rapidly increasing demand for livestock products,
while globalisation is boosting trade in livestock inputs and
products. Global production of meat is projected to more than
double from 229 million tonnes in 1999/01 to 465 million tonnes
in 2050, and that of milk to grow from 580 to 1 043 million tonnes.
The environmental impact per unit of livestock production must
be cut by half, just to avoid increasing the level of damage
beyond its present level. Structural changes and their impact
The livestock sector is undergoing a complex process of technical
and geographical change, which is shifting the balance of environmental
problems caused by the sector. Extensive grazing still occupies
and degrades vast areas of land; though there is an increasing
trend towards intensification and industrialisation. Livestock
production is shifting geographically, first from rural areas
to urban and suburban, to get closer to consumers, then towards
the sources of feed stuff, whether these are feed crop areas,
or transport and trade hubs where feed is imported. There is
also a shift of species, with production of mono gastric species
(pigs and poultry, mostly produced in industrial units) growing
rapidly, while the growth of ruminant production (cattle, sheep
and goats, often raised extensively) slows. Through these shifts,
the livestock sector enters into more and direct competition
for scarce land, water and other natural resources.
These changes are pushing towards improved efficiency, thus
reducing the land area required for livestock production. At
the same time, they are marginalising smallholders and pastoralists,
increasing inputs and wastes and increasing and concentrating
the pollution created. Widely dispersed non-point sources of
pollution are ceding importance to point sources that create
more local damage but are more easily regulated. Land degradation
The livestock sector is by far the single largest anthropogenic
user of land. The total area occupied by grazing is equivalent
to 26 % of the ice-free terrestrial surface of the planet. In
addition, the total area dedicated to feed-crop production amounts
to 33 % of total arable land. In all, livestock production accounts
for 70 % of all agricultural land and 30 % of the land surface
of the planet.
Expansion of livestock production is a key factor in deforestation,
especially in Latin America where the greatest amount of deforestation
is occurring 70 % of previous forested land in the Amazon
is occupied by pastures, and feed crops cover a large part of
the remainder. About 20 % of the worlds pastures and range
lands, with 73 % of range lands in dry areas, have been degraded
to some extent, mostly through overgrazing, compaction and erosion
created by livestock action. The dry lands in particular are
affected by these trends, as livestock are often the only source
of livelihoods for the people living in these areas.
Overgrazing can be reduced by grazing fees and by removing
obstacles to mobility on common property pastures. Land degradation
can be limited and reversed through soil conservation methods,
better management of grazing systems, limits to uncontrolled
burning by pastoralists and controlled exclusion from sensitive
areas. Atmosphere and climate
With rising temperatures, rising sea levels, melting icecaps
and glaciers, shifting ocean currents and weather patterns, climate
change is the most serious challenge facing the human race.
The livestock sector is a major player, responsible for 18
% of greenhouse gas emissions measured in CO2 equivalent. This
is a higher share than transport. The livestock sector accounts
for 9 % of anthropogenic CO2 emissions. The largest share of
this derives from land use changes especially deforestation
caused by expansion of pastures and arable land for feed
crops. Livestock are responsible for much larger shares of some
gases with far higher potential to warm the atmosphere. The sector
emits 37 % of anthropogenic methane (with 23 times the global
warming potential (GWP) of CO2 most of that from enteric fermentation
by ruminants. It emits 65 % of nitrous
oxide (with 296 times the GWP of CO2, the great majority
from manure. Livestock are also responsible for almost two thirds
(64%) of anthropogenic ammonia emissions, which contribute significantly
to acid rain and acidification of ecosystems. This high level
of emissions opens up large opportunities for climate change
mitigation through livestock actions. Intensification
in terms of increased productivity both in livestock production
and in feed crop agriculture can reduce greenhouse gas
emissions from deforestation and pasture degradation. In addition,
restoring historical losses of soil carbon through conservation
tillage, cover crops, agro-forestry and other measures could
sequester up to 1.3 tonnes of carbon per hectare per year, with
additional amounts available through restoration of desertified
pastures. Methane emissions can be reduced through improved diets
to reduce enteric fermentation, improved manure management and
bio gas which also provide renewable energy. Nitrogen
emissions can be reduced through improved diets and manure management.
The Kyoto Protocols clean development mechanism (CDM)
can be used to finance the spread of bio gas and silvo-pastoral
initiatives involving afforestation and reforestation. Methodologies
should be developed so that the CDM can finance other livestock-related
options such as soil carbon sequestration through rehabilitation
of degraded pastures.
The world is moving towards increasing problems of freshwater
shortage, scarcity and depletion, with 64 % of the worlds
population expected to live in water-stressed basins by 2025.
The livestock sector is a key player in increasing water use,
accounting for over 8 % of global human water use, mostly for
the irrigation of feed crops. It is probably the largest sectoral
source of water pollution, contributing to eutrophication, "dead"
zones in coastal areas, degradation of coral reefs, human health
problems, emergence of antibiotic resistance and many others.
The major sources of pollution are from animal wastes, antibiotics
and hormones, chemicals from tanneries, fertilisers and pesticides
used for feed crops, and sediments from eroded pastures. Global
figures are not available but in the United States, with the
worlds fourth largest land area, livestock are responsible
for an estimated 55 % of erosion and sediment, 37 % of pesticide
use, 50 % of antibiotic use, and a third of the loads of nitrogen
and phosphorus into freshwater resources. Livestock also affect
the replenishment of freshwater by compacting soil, reducing
infiltration, degrading the banks of watercourses, drying up
floodplains and lowering water tables. Livestocks contribution
to deforestation also increases runoff and reduces dry season
Water use can be reduced through improving the efficiency
of irrigation systems. Livestocks impact on erosion, sedimentation
and water regulation can be addressed by measures against land
degradation. Pollution can be tackled through better management
of animal waste in industrial production units, better diets
to improve nutrient absorption, improved manure management (including
bio gas) and better use of processed manure on crop lands. Industrial
livestock production should be decentralised to accessible crop
lands where wastes can be recycled without overloading soils
and freshwater. Policy measures that would help in reducing water
use and pollution include full cost pricing of water (to cover
supply costs, as well as economic and environmental externalities),
regulatory frameworks for limiting inputs and scale, specifying
required equipment and discharge levels, zoning regulations and
taxes to discourage large scale concentrations close to cities,
as well as the development of secure water rights and water markets,
and participatory management of watersheds.
We are in an era of unprecedented threats to Bio diversity.
The loss of species is estimated to be running 50 to 500 times
higher than background rates found in the fossil record. Fifteen
out of 24 important ecosystem services are assessed to be in
decline. Livestock now account for about 20 % of the total terrestrial
animal biomass, and the 30 % of the earths land surface
that they now preempt was once habitat for wildlife. Indeed,
the livestock sector may well be the leading player in the reduction
of Bio diversity, since it is the major driver of deforestation,
as well as one of the leading drivers of land degradation, pollution,
climate change, over-fishing, sedimentation of coastal areas
and facilitation of invasions by alien species. In addition,
resource conflicts with pastoralists threaten species of wild
predators and also protected areas close to pastures. Meanwhile
in developed regions, especially Europe, pastures had become
a location of diverse long-established types of ecosystem, many
of which are now threatened by pasture abandonment.
Some 306 of the 825 terrestrial eco-regions identified by
the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF) ranged across all
and all bio geographical realms, reported livestock as one of
the current threats. Conservation International has identified
35 global hotshots for Bio diversity, characterised by exceptional
levels of plant endemism and serious levels of habitat loss.
Of these, 23 are reported to be affected by livestock production.
An analysis of the authoritative World Conservation Union (IUCN)
Red List of Threatened Species shows that most of the worlds
threatened species are suffering habitat loss where livestock
are a factor.
Since many of livestocks threats to Bio diversity arise
from their impact on the main resource sectors (climate, air
and water pollution, land degradation and deforestation), major
options for mitigation are detailed in those sections. There
is also scope for improving pastoralists interactions with
wildlife and parks and raising wildlife species in livestock
Reduction of the wildlife area preempted by livestock can
be achieved by intensification. Protection of wild areas, buffer
zones, conservation easements, tax credits and penalties can
increase the amount of land where Bio diversity conservation
is prioritised. Efforts should extend more widely to integrate
livestock production and producers into landscape management.
Cross-cutting policy frameworks
Certain general policy approaches cut across all the above
fields. A general conclusion is that improving the resource use
efficiency of livestock production can reduce environmental impacts.
While regulating about scale, inputs, wastes and so on can
help, a crucial element in achieving greater efficiency is the
correct pricing of natural resources such as land, water and
use of waste sinks. Most frequently natural resources are free
or under-priced, which leads to over exploitation and pollution.
Often perverse subsidies directly encourage livestock producers
to engage in environmentally damaging activities.
A top priority is to achieve prices and fees that reflect
the full economic and environmental costs, including all externalities.
One requirement for prices to influence behaviour is that there
should be secure and if possible tradable rights to water, land,
use of common land and waste sinks.
Damaging subsidies should be removed, and economic and environmental
externalities should be built into prices by selective taxing
of and/or fees for resource use, inputs and wastes. In some cases
direct incentives may be needed.
Payment for environmental services is an important framework,
especially in relation to extensive grazing systems: herders,
producers and landowners can be paid for specific environmental
services such as regulation of water flows, soil conservation,
conservation of natural landscape and wildlife habitats, or carbon
sequestration. Provision of environmental services may emerge
as a major purpose of extensive grassland-based production systems.
An important general lesson is that the livestock sector has
such deep and wide-ranging environmental impacts that it should
rank as one of the leading focuses for environmental policy:
efforts here can produce large and multiple payoffs. Indeed,
as societies develop, it is likely that environmental considerations,
along with human health issues, will become the dominant policy
considerations for the sector.
Finally, there is an urgent need to develop suitable institutional
and policy frameworks, at local, national and international levels,
for the suggested changes to occur. This will require strong
political commitment, and increased knowledge and awareness of
the environmental risks of continuing business as usual'
and the environmental benefits of actions in the livestock sector.