Incentives for more environmentally-friendly production
Industrial livestock production in developing countries often
causes severe environmental damages, especially when meat and dairy
factories are crowded together around cities or close to water
resources, FAO warned today.
In a report entitled Livestock
Policy Brief 02, Pollution from industrialized livestock production the
UN agency urged governments to create incentives for more environmentally
friendly dairy and meat production practices.
Meat and dairy products have become more widely available and
affordable in many developing countries. Between 1980 and 2004,
meat production in developing countries tripled from around 50
million to 150 million tonnes.
Although consumers in developed countries still eat three to four
times as much meat per person, developing countries now produce
and consume well over half of the world’s meat.
The rapid growth of livestock production in the developing world
has been concentrated mainly in a few large countries, including
Brazil, Mexico, China and the countries around the South China
Sea (Thailand, Vietnam and the Philippines). Meat production in
developing countries is expected to increase by about 110 million
tonnes by 2030.
From cattle to pig and poultry
In many developing countries large industrial livestock operations
with thousands of animals have displaced production on small farms
that raise both animals and crops and recycle nutrients as fodder
and fertilizer. New production has shifted increasingly from cattle
that graze on grass in rural areas to industrial pig and poultry
production on the outskirts of major cities. In Asia, large-scale
industrial production accounts for roughly 80 percent of the total
increase in livestock products since 1990.
In industrial production systems, large quantities of animal wastes
accumulate far from croplands where they could be safely recycled.
Dense concentrations of industrial livestock production create
vast quantities of manure. Although much lower on a national scale,
concentration of pig and poultry production in parts of China and
Brazil is approaching and surpassing levels found in Europe and
Pig and poultry production concentrated in coastal areas of China,
Thailand and Viet Nam are emerging as the major source of nutrient
pollution of the South China Sea, the FAO report said. Pig production
accounts for an estimated 42 percent of nitrogen and 90 percent
of phosphorus flows into the South China Sea. Along much of the
densely populated coast, the pig density exceeds 100 animals per
square kilometre and agricultural lands are overloaded with huge
nutrient surpluses. Run-off is severely degrading seawater and
sediment quality in one of the world’s most biologically
diverse marine areas, threatening mangroves, coral reefs and sea
Major forms of pollution associated with manure management in
intensive livestock production include:
- Leaching of nitrates and
pathogens into groundwater, which often threatens drinking water
- Oversupply of nutrients that damages soil fertility.
In several Asian countries, one quarter of the total crop area
suffers from significant nutrient overloads. Almost half the
excess phosphorus supply comes from livestock.
- Destruction of
fragile ecosystems such as wetlands, mangrove swamps and coral
reefs. Threatened coastal areas of the South China Sea, for example,
have provided the habitat for 45 of the world’s
51 mangrove species, almost all of the known coral species and
20 of the 50 known sea grasses.
Government policies such as zoning regulations and taxes can discourage
large concentrations of intensive production close to cities, the
report said. Taxes, certification programmes and other policy instruments
can support best practices in livestock production. In Thailand,
for example, the high concentration of poultry production on the
outskirts of Bangkok was significantly reduced in less than a decade,
because poultry farmers within a 100 kilometre radius of Bangkok
had to pay high taxes. Chicken farmers outside that zone enjoyed
Unfortunately, in many countries outdated and misguided policies
actively promote environmentally unsustainable livestock production,
FAO said. Many developing countries provide subsidies for chemical
fertilizers, energy and credit. Such subsidies tend to be of greater
benefit to large operations.
Eliminating subsidies, adjusting taxes and providing incentives
for investing in technology to reduce pollution could reduce the
environmental damage caused by industrial livestock production.
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