In January of this year (2012), the Food Climate Research Network and the Oxford Martin Programme on the Future of Food held a 2-day workshop from which the report “Sustainable intensification in agriculture: Navigating a course through competing food system priorities” was produced. While the title might suggest support for intensive livestock practices, upon reading the text, one finds a very nuanced assessment of the impacts associated with various levels of livestock intensity in both developing and developed countries.
The report examines livestock’s impacts on 1) the environment, 2) animal welfare, and 3) public health, showing that the utility of all livestock practices ought to be measured through these categories according to the interests of all stakeholders involved – which include farmers, consumers, farm animals, wild animals, local communities, and future generations – and according to the general goals that society has for food production. In the context of sustainability, it describes food as “a good whose production relies on natural and socioeconomic capital” – in other words, that there are a variety of resources, many of which are limited, that go into producing food, and that meeting the nutritional needs of a burgeoning world population should use these resources mindfully without compromising the quality of life of future generations. It suggests that reducing the consumption of meat, eggs, and dairy would have beneficial results, and then examines the governance and demand management issues involved in such a shift. Throughout the report, the authors frame the issue in a very comprehensive way, showing that there are many factors and trade-offs that must be addressed when policymakers and society at large consider how to produce enough food to meet human nutritional needs while giving weight to the many other issues involved.
Thanks to A Well-Fed World for posting the link on its website to FCRN and many other organizations that, in various ways, examine the global impacts of the livestock sector and the consumption of meat, eggs, and dairy.