The global food system is under severe pressure associated with profound changes. The rising human population, which is expected to reach nine billion by 2050, together with shifts in the patterns of consumption, such as the increased demand for livestock products, lead to significant challenges for the global community. The rising consumption of livestock products has been caused by such factors as urbanization, increased outcomes, as well as environmental and nutritional concerns, all of which define who eats, what is eaten, and how much is eaten.
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Within the described background, the global food system has to improve in regards to its efficiency and resources to boost environmental performance for ensuring greater sustainability in both production and consumption (Herrero and Thornton 20879). Livestock represents the social-environmental problem because it is the largest land-use sector worldwide. The issue persists because livestock is seen as the method of feeding the world. The failure to address animal welfare, health, and environmental concerns, as well as the intensification of livestock farming, contributes to the exasperation of challenges associated with livestock food production.
From the environmental justice perspective, the intensive production of livestock represents a significant environmental issue. Livestock supply chains emit an estimated 8.1 gigatons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, which accounts for approximately 14% of human-initiated greenhouse-gas emissions (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations [FAO]). Animal waste is often not treated with appropriate measures, especially in developing countries, with farmers polluting waters and decreasing the quality of ecosystems.
The emissions from farming into the atmosphere depend on the species involved in the production, which contributes to the exasperation of the issue (see Figure 1). These challenges do not mean that livestock production should be eliminated; rather, addressing food security from the standpoint of environmental justice and the development of sustainable intensification is imperative.
The global livestock industry is characterized by the lack of unification in practices in developing and developed countries (Gunderson 404). The total production of meat in the developing part of the world increased by three times between 1980 and 2002, with most of the growth-focused in such regions as East Asia and was associated predominantly with pigs and poultry (Thornton 2854) (see Figure 2). On the contrary, in developed states, the production of livestock and its consumption has been slowly increased and stagnated; however, the high rates of consumption and production remained.
A range of players influences both the manufacturing and consumption of livestock-related products on a global scale. These include governments, farmers, retailers, and end consumers. The connections between the mentioned parties contribute to boosted demand for livestock products as urbanization and globalization move forward. In addition, it is important to note the role of livestock science and technologies as drivers of change. Efficient statistical methods implemented for estimating the “genetic merit of animals, as well as the wider use of technologies such as artificial insemination and focused selection” made it possible to produce higher quantities of livestock at shorter times (Thornton 2853).
At face value, livestock production benefits global economies, as direct inflows from the industry are counted in hundreds of billion dollars annually. Apart from governments, livestock farming is essential to providing resources and livelihoods to approximately 1.3 billion people globally (Thornton 2855). Thus, at the expense of environmental challenges, livestock production offers significant economic advantages.
In terms of the harm caused by industrial farming, it is essential to note that animals are the ones subjected to the most harm. According to the Guardian article by Harari, the living conditions of farm animals often do not meet humane standards, which leads to increased suffering of living creatures. As to the environmental issues resulting from livestock production, their accumulative effect threatens the biodiversity of ecosystems.
Industrialization represents the structural cause of livestock adversely influencing the environment. With the development and intensification of livestock agriculture, the industrial efficiency of farms increased while their sustainability decreased. Agricultural industrialization included multiple structural changes ranging from increasing capital intensiveness of farm operations to growing vertical coordination between off-farm firms.
Systemic causes of the environmental issues brought by livestock production lie in the geographic clustering of intensive manufacturing facilities near large urban centers. In addition to the pollution brought by cities through carbon dioxide emissions, intensive livestock production leaves its own carbon footprint, thus exacerbating the problem.
Applying environmental justice principles to livestock production can significantly influence the solution to the problem through the enactment of regulations to protect farm animals while ensuring that farms follow the standardized practices of sustainable waste disposal. Initiating the conversation within the public about the unethical practices in relation to global ecosystems may lead to a better understanding of the problem and the alleviation of environmental justice concerns.
Overcoming the negative impact of livestock production on global ecosystems and the environment, in general, has been possible through the introduction of sustainable methods. Farmers dedicated to sustainable approaches use lower quantities of phosphorus content in the livestock’s feed, reduce phosphates from dairy farming, and shrink cattle stock. In addition, the reduction of antibiotic use in the production of livestock is essential in sustainable farming as the excessive use of such drugs can contribute to the resistance of bacteria, which is dangerous for both animals and their ultimate consumption. This is possible through the enactment of food safety and sanitary protocols and frequent monitoring of animal health.
The consistent implementation of systematic efforts to reduce the overall impact on the environment can be effective only in the case if all farmers worldwide comply with the same regulations. At this time, the alternative methods of livestock farming work predominantly in developed countries when there are high standards and regulations enacted by governments to regulate the industry. However, in countries where there is a lack of economic resources to maintain sustainable efforts, the currently available efforts to reduce the impact of the industry on the environment are limited.
To summarize the current exploration, it should be mentioned that livestock production represents one of the most convenient ways of feeding the global population. The complete elimination of livestock production will result in significant limitations for worldwide food consumption, which is why more sustainable and effective methods are needed to regulate the adverse impact of the industry to ensure that it prospers and develops in positive ways. It is a personal choice whether or not to consume livestock products, and there is proof that individual carbon footprints reduce when one chooses to reduce meat and dairy consumption. However, the key issue at stake is to ensure that farmers provide equal and measurable methods of reducing the impact on the environment and enacting measures of sustainable livestock production.
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Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. “GLEAM 2.0 – Assessment of Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Mitigation Potential.” FAO. Web.
Gunderson, Ryan. “The Metabolic Rifts of Livestock Agribusiness.” Organization & Environment, vol. 24, no. 4, 2011, pp. 404-422.
Harari, Yuval Noah. “Industrial Farming is One of the Worst Crimes in History.” The Guardian. 2015. Web.
Herrero, Mario, and Philip Thornton. “Livestock and Global Change: Emerging Issues for Sustainable Food Systems.” PNAS, vol. 110, no. 52, 2013, pp. 20878-20881.
Thornton, Philip. “Livestock Production: Recent Trends, Future Prospects.” Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London. Series B, Biological Sciences, vol. 365, no. 1554, 2010, pp. 2853-2867.