Livestock produces 12% of human greenhouse gas emissions, according to the FAO


Livestock farming is responsible for 12% of greenhouse gas emissions caused by humans and its impact on the climate will worsen (AFP/Archives/CHARLY TRIBALLEAU)

Livestock farming is the source of 12% of greenhouse gas emissions caused by humans and its impact on the climate will worsen if nothing is done since global demand for meat will increase, indicates Friday the agricultural organization FAO.

To reduce emissions from the sector, the UN agency recommends above all increasing the productivity of the entire chain, changing the diet of animals and improving their health.

She also mentions in a report the reduction of meat consumption as an avenue, but of limited scope.

In 2015, the reference year, livestock production produced 810 million tonnes of milk, 78 million tonnes of eggs and 330 million tonnes of meat, details the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

From animal feed production to store doors, this led to the emission of 6.2 gigatons (Gt) of CO2 equivalent, with the FAO measuring methane, nitrous oxide and carbon dioxide of carbon.

Cattle are the main source of emissions (62%), followed by pigs (14%), chickens (9%), buffalo (8%) and sheep and goats (7%).

In terms of produced foodstuffs, meat is the largest source (67%), ahead of milk (30%) and eggs (3%).

Emissions directly linked to livestock farming, from cattle burps to manure fermentation, represent 60% of the total.

In indirect emissions, the FAO counted the manufacture of fertilizers and pesticides for the production of fodder, the transport and processing of animals, but also the conversion of forests into pasture or fields intended for fodder.

Between the growth of the world population and that of average demand per capita, consumption of animal proteins should increase by 21% between 2020 and 2050, the agency anticipates.

To meet this appetite while avoiding increasing the number of animals, several recommendations have been put forward.

The most effective according to the FAO is to increase productivity throughout the chain, for example by using various techniques to inflate the volume of milk produced per cow or by lowering the age at which animals are sent to the slaughterhouse. .

– Nutritional recommendations –

Then come the evolution of animal nutrition, then the improvement of their health which not only increases their productivity but also reduces the mortality rate.

The selection of certain genetic traits, the provision of additives that can affect digestion or the reduction of waste are also recommended.

The FAO also mentions reducing meat consumption, but emphasizing that its impact is limited if meat is, for example, replaced by vegetables grown in greenhouses or out-of-season fruits transported by plane.

If residents were to follow official nutritional recommendations, this would generally lead to less meat consumption in rich countries and therefore to a reduction in emissions, notes the FAO.

But in middle-income countries, the drop in emissions linked to meat would be largely offset by the increase in emissions linked to fruits, vegetables and nuts grown partly in greenhouses.

In low-income countries, it is often recommended to increase your consumption of both plant and animal proteins.

Raising a cow in a feedlot in the United States tends to produce fewer emissions per animal than in sub-Saharan Africa, notes the FAO. The room for improvement is therefore greater in low- and middle-income countries in Africa, South America and Asia.

However, “it is not a question of promoting intensification at all costs in these regions, but rather of drawing inspiration from systems with relatively lower emission intensities”, underlines the agency, for which any solution must adapt to the context and take into account possible adverse effects.

Another UN agency, the Environment Program (UNEP), for its part, published a report on Friday on alternative options to meat and dairy products, based on plants or new technologies, as a possible source of reduction of emissions from the agri-food industry.

On condition, however, emphasizes UNEP, that the energy used for their production is low carbon.

© 2023 AFP

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