This report did not evaluate the impact of having no livestock to harvest grass and other forages from the 35 percent of U.S. land that is not suitable for crop production. My experience is that this non-crop land would become ineffective in terms of food production and evolve into deserts in much of the more arid regions of our country. We would lose the regenerative effect that properly managed grazing animals have on the land.

Doug Warnock

Capital Press

Periodically we hear references to the contribution that livestock make in generating Green House Gases (GHG) to the Earth’s atmosphere. It has been suggested that reducing animal agriculture or consumption of animal–derived foods may reduce GHG and enhance food security. While the thought of reducing or eliminating livestock production in this country seems, to many of us who work in the livestock arena, to be ridiculous, the idea should be addressed.

A recent paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science discussed the impact of eliminating animal agriculture in the U.S., specifically how it would affect the production of food and the emissions of GHG. The authors were Dr. Robin White of Virginia Tech and Dr. Mary Beth Hall, with the United States Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service.

White and Hall concluded that eliminating animal agriculture would lead to a 23 percent increase in food production. This was a result of converting land currently used to grow feed grains and legumes for livestock to raising food for human consumption.

This report did not evaluate the impact of having no livestock to harvest grass and other forages from the 35 percent of U.S. land that is not suitable for crop production. My experience is that this non-crop land would become ineffective in terms of food production and evolve into deserts in much of the more arid regions of our country. We would lose the regenerative effect that properly managed grazing animals have on the land.

Animal products currently contribute almost half of the U.S. population’s protein, a majority of our needed essential fatty acids and are important sources of many micronutrients in our diet. The authors projected that elimination of animal agriculture would reduce agriculture’s GHG emission by 28 percent. Currently, animals are responsible for 2.6 percent of the total GHG in the U.S. The reason given as to why elimination of animals didn’t reduce GHG by a larger amount was that animals contribute to agriculture and society in other ways.

Animal agriculture supplies 4 million metric tons of fertilizer used in plant production and replacing this resource with industrial fertilizer offsets some of the benefit of reduced GHG. Also, animals consume over 40 million metric tons of byproducts generated by humans that would need to be disposed of in other ways, which would generate more GHG.

Based on Environmental Protection Agency data, all agriculture is responsible for 9 percent of U.S. GHG. Elimination of animal agriculture is estimated to reduce total emissions by only 2.6 percent.

Read the full commentary here


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