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Increasing the Sustainability of Livestock Production through Technology and Innovation
Amidst a growing population and a burgeoning global middle class, especially in the developing world, the agriculture industry is dually challenged to meet the rising demand for food and to do so in a way that is environmentally sound, economically viable and socially responsible.[i] The 2015 Global Agricultural Productivity® (GAP Report®): Building Sustainable Breadbaskets from the Global Harvest Initiative outlines a pathway for meeting the challenge of supplying more food in a sustainable manner. Among the GAP Report’s recommendations are increasing the adoption of agricultural technologies and innovations that increase productivity while:
- using less land, animals, and other natural resources,
- keeping prices affordable to the consumer and providing the farmer with a living wage, and
- promoting a range of socially important issues including human nutrition and sound animal welfare.
The GAP Report® describes how the U.S. milk supply has been increasing since the 1960s while the number of cows producing this growing supply of milk has actually declined. Agricultural innovations and technologies, including genetic improvements from R&D (research and development) , feed efficiency and better animal care and health practices, have increased the productivity of milk per cow. Reducing the number of dairy cows has helped to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions and reduces the need for more water, feed, and land in milk production. Technology adoption helps maintain both the affordability of milk to consumers and helps to reduce production costs, thereby keeping dairy farmers profitable. And advances in animal health have helped to support good animal welfare.
The GAP Report® also highlights how innovations in poultry broiler production in the United States has reduced mortality rates from a high of 18% in the 1920s to 4% today. In addition, feed efficiency per bird has improved, requiring less environmental production impact. Such improvements have been made possible by adoption of breeding technologies and better poultry genetics, as well as use of poultry health products and care practices that protect birds from disease. The adoption of innovation by the broiler industry has allowed for reduced dependence on natural resources, created more affordable food, and increased the health and welfare for birds.
While these examples focus on the U.S. poultry and dairy industries, their relevance for the developing world is clear. Nearly 50% of the world’s milk is produced by the European Union and the United States, where only 19% of the world’s dairy cow population resides. Africa, by contrast, has 20% of the world’s dairy cows but only 5% of milk production. Without the adoption of innovation, technology and best practices, the increasing demand for food may result in unsustainable resource use rather than a more productive approach.
[i] The United Nations Brundtland Commission (1987) defines sustainability as “meeting the needs of people today without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”