Greenhouse gas emissions generated by the livestock sector could be slashed by as much as 30 percent using existing technology and best practices, according to a study by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization.
The FAO says emissions can be cut by using energy-saving equipment and improving feed digestibility and feed practices, which reduces methane production during digestion. Ranchers and farmers can cut emissions by switching to low-emission intensity feeds and reducing the share of herds dedicated to maintenance and not production, the report says.
The FAO also recommends using a lifecycle approach to assess emissions, which it says can help policymakers targets areas within the supply chain that produces large amounts of GHGs.
The FAO is working with producers, research and academia and organizations to form The Global Agenda of Action to support sustainable livestock development. That agenda will focus its efforts on three areas: improving the efficiency of livestock operations as well as improving grassland management and manure management.
The FAO report, Tackling climate change through livestock: A global assessment of emissions and mitigation opportunities, says livestock supply chains emit 7.1 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent per year — about 14.5 of all human-caused GHG releases.
Beef and cattle milk production account for the majority of emissions, contributing 41 percent and 19 percent of the sector’s GHGs, respectively. Pig meat production produces 9 percent of emissions, while poultry raised for meat and eggs contribute 8 percent, the FAO report says.
Feed production and processing livestock — as well as enteric fermentation from ruminants such as cows — are the two main sources of emissions, representing 45 percent and 39 percent of total emissions, respectively. Manure storage and processing emits 10 percent of the total. The remainder is generated by the processing and transportation of animal products.
A separate UN-backed report released in April 2013 found cattle ranching and coal-powered energy are the two most environmentally expensive industries — and cost the economy more in environmental damage than they generate in revenue.