How can livestock production be more sustainable?

Published Wednesday, 23rd June 2021

Human activities across the globe – including fossil fuel use, deforestation, and agricultural practices –are contributing to the build-up of atmospheric carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases (GHG).

According to the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), “depending on the temperature dataset considered, 20–40% of the global human population live in regions that, by the decade 2006–2015, had already experienced warming of more than 1.5°C above pre-industrial in at least one season.”

It also states that “Climate change, including increases in frequency and intensity of extremes, has adversely impacted food security and terrestrial ecosystems as well as contributed to desertification and land degradation in many regions.”

The IPCC is urging governments and other stakeholders to take steps to slow warming to a maximum of 1.5oC above pre-industrial levels. It warns that without major changes, the increase in global temperature will result in a major threat to food security.

How does animal production impact on emissions targets?

The FAO reports that “Production from livestock supply chains can be expressed as per protein basis, allowing comparisons between species and products. East and Southeast Asia, with about 19 million tonnes of protein, is the region with the highest production, mainly driven by monogastric species. Western Europe, North America, Latin America and the Caribbean and South Asia have comparable production levels, between 12 and 10 million tonnes of protein.”

It also says that the total emissions from global livestock equal approximately 7.1 gigatons of Co2-equivalent every year. This represents 14.5% of all GHG emissions caused by mankind.

Beef and dairy cattle (along with animals used for non-food outputs including manure and draft power) responsible for the most emissions by livestock (about 65% of the sector’s emissions). (FAO)

How do demand for meat products and consumer trends impact sustainability?

Animal protein consumption increased in industrial countries during the 1960s and 1970s from 44 to 55 g/capita/day. It then remained fairly stable. In developing countries, the level of consumption of animal proteins increased steadily from 9 g/capita/day in 1961/63 to 20 g/capita/day in 1997/99, but there is still significant potential for increases.

From the baseline in 1997/99 to 2030, the FAO has projected annual meat consumption in developing countries will increase from 25.5 to 37 kg per person (compared with an increase from 88 to 100 kg in industrial countries). Consumption of milk and dairy products will rise from 45 kg/ person/p.a. to 66 kg in developing countries, and from 212 to 221 kg in industrial countries. For eggs, consumption will grow from 6.5 to 8.9 kg in developing countries and from 13.5 to 13.8 kg in industrial countries. (FAO)

Rising incomes drive demand for greater food variety and as a result there is an increased requirement for higher-value and quality foods such as meat, eggs and milk. These consumption pattern changes and unprecedented population growth, mean large increases in the total demand for animal products in many developing countries; a trend that is set to continue and even accelerate.

The global agriculture industry is therefore under significant pressure to demonstrate its commitment to reducing its environmental impact due to a growing number of consumers concerned about sustainability when shopping for meat products.

The industry has an important role in both demonstrating its commitment to sustainable production as well as educating the consumer on its impact.

What are the climate change implications for animal nutrition?

According to Cranfield University (2018) a 4oC change in temperate could result in decreased soybean yield by 40-50% and corn and wheat could be down by 10-20%. Furthermore, the nutritional value of grains could reduce by 10-20%, presenting a challenge for nutritionists looking to formulate to meet animal requirements at least cost, and that’s without considering the direct impact on human food.

There is significant variability in production practices resulting in a variation of emission intensity within those systems. The FAO (2019) report that partially reducing this gap within existing production systems could help to cut emissions by up to 30%.

Feed enzymes play an important role both in helping extract maximum nutritional value from feed and in improving the overall efficiency of production. The FAO highlighted the importance of such nutrition technologies in reducing GHG emissions.

Could better application of enzymes create more from less?

Maximum Matrix Nutrition is a combination enzyme strategy targeting maximum phytate breakdown whilst reducing viscosity and increasing fibre fermentability.

MMN has been demonstrated an improvement in nutrient utilisation delivering a significant increase in amino acids, minerals and energy provision, meaning diets can be formulated with higher nutrient credits for feed cost savings.

The maximum nutrient credit that could be considered when using enzymes will depend on the characteristic of the diet. Near-Infrared Spectroscopy (NIR) technology plays an important role in assessing substrate levels such as phytate and amino acid availability in ingredients. With levels of anti-nutrients varying not just between feedstuffs but within a single raw material, NIR provides critical insights into substrate composition – helping to inform precision in terms of MMN application.

Where are the savings coming from?

By applying MMN, nutritionists have the option to reduce the usage of specific ingredients, whilst achieving the same performance gains. Raw materials include soybean meal, soy oil, inorganic phosphate. All of which have both a cost to the producer as well as a carbon footprint. By reducing usage raw material usage there is a direct economic and environmental benefit.

A combination of six poultry and three pig trials demonstrated the potential to reduce the carbon footprint 0.8kg CO2e/kg carcass using the MMN application. As a comparison, producing 1kg of chicken or pig results in total emissions equal to 3.1 and 5.5 kg CO2e/kg of meat respectively.

What is the carbon footprint model?

The sustainability studies used a carbon model derived specifically for livestock systems using real animal data, not only expected performance. It is reviewed and updated in-line with IPCC standards, and was the first ever to pass the Carbon Trust`s PAS2050 status (standard method for calculating lifecycle GHG emissions, enabling standardisation of carbon emission claims).

It measures key inputs on farm including feed and animal data and calculates emissions based on manure, land-use change and animal efficiency. The insights gleaned can be applied practically to commercial situations, helping feed producers meet their goals.

For more information schedule a call with us or visit

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Our calculator is designed for nutritionists and uses averages of global raw materials to calculate the dietary fibre content (plus other more in-depth fibre parameters) of finished animal feed. These parameters are available within AB Vista’s Dietary Fibre analysis service (part of our NIR service).

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