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Some possible solutions to assist feeding the world in 2050 - part 3

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01 October 2015, at 1:00am

Dr TONY ANDREWS concludes his discussion of the challenges facing food producers in feeding an everexpanding global population, and the role veterinarians will play in achieving sustainability

THE main problems with animal intensification are the volumes of water used and the waste products produced. Their suitable recycling or disposal is necessary before any such unit can be considered viable and not proportionately increasing GHGs.

It is beyond this article to deal with this but with water it is possible to introduce systems which will improve efficiency of water use and collection, improve irrigation methods and ensure that all water is productively used (every drop counts).

In the case of the waste products in the animal production stage, it can be assisted by producing better balanced diets including lack of excess nutrients, use of dietary ingredients that can be efficiently utilised by the animal, use of additives to further improve digestive efficiency, and also the reduction of stress and disease.

The actual waste products can be better collected, stored and distributed. The techniques include aeration of the waste, sedimentation of the solids, chemical flocculation, composting, drying of the manure, anaerobic digestion, etc.; then the improved utilisation of manure to ensure only sufficient is used on the land to meet crop requirements with minimal soil impaction and run-off.

Pasture management can also ensure maximum utilisation of the pasture without damaging it and ensuring livestock removal when appropriate on a temporary or permanent basis. Zero grazing may also be useful.

Simplistically, it would appear that if a food animal is used to continually produce a particular product, then the more of that product produced by the individual the less the drain on resources such as feed, etc.

The daily feed needs to maintain the animal itself and this will be more than the cost of its unit production (milk, eggs, offspring). Thus, increasing milk yield per cow/goat/sheep, eggs per laying hen/other poultry, larger strong viable litters of pigs/ruminants/other animals, etc., should be the aim.

Increasing unit production per annum and high total lifetime production needs to be sought. Productive longevity involves many different factors such as genetics, nutrition, management, environmental adaptation, disease prevention, etc.

The aim is to reduce the replacement rate. In animals used for meat production, the aim must be to produce more usable food and byproducts from each animal and to do this with maximum efficient feed conversion.

Predictions necessary

If climate change continues, it will be necessary to predict what will happen. Many parts of the world have developed animals which are able to cope with their specific local environment.

As climate change alters the environment in some areas it may be necessary to look at breeds or animal types and species in environmentally similar areas and consider importing them (animals, embryos, semen) as the areas change.

However, we need to remember lessons from the past where wholesale importation of improved breeds to some countries often resulted in disaster because of their inability to cope with the new environment or the diseases present.

In the future, new technology and attention to breeding may make them more economically viable but without removing inherent characteristics of survival in adverse climates, disease resistance, etc.

In the case of herbivores and omnivores, while some are likely to be reared outside, others will spend some or much of their time indoors. It should be possible to provide some of their diet by use of hydroponic production systems.

While they require good management, many of the inputs can be recycled and as production is in buildings, they can be multi-storeyed thereby reducing land usage. Disease problems will need to be addressed and welfare will also need to be considered.

Providing a core

The arguments for dairy production from ruminants are easier to make than for meat production when solely looking at GHGs, but continual production of milk at present will mean the production of offspring as well as their eventual culling. These will continue to provide a core for meat production.

It is suspected, however, that the demand for continuing meat supplies will lead to a compromise over the negative effect of their GHG emissions.

There are various strategies that will reduce their amounts and their effects including intensification, control of dietary constituents, feeding only sufficient, use of compounds to alter ruminant fermentation and digestion, improving efficient production, ensuring good fertility, reducing stress and disease, reducing culling and increasing longevity.

The role of horses, camelids and other herbivores including rodents and lagomorphs as agricultural food animals might increase if the sensitivities in some countries about their use as food can be overcome. They overcome some of the GHG problems but need correct management so as not to cause pasture deterioration.

Conclusion

Future food production will be a challenge. It should be possible to supply adequate amounts of food providing politics do not impede its production and movement. Its value and those who produce it must be recognised by consumer and politician alike.

While amounts of cereal and other plant crops will need to double, there should still be suitable areas for animal production. The amount of this production will depend partly on discussions about the value of animal protein in the human diet but it can be seen that the demand will probably increase and, because of its nutritional value, political compromises will need to allow its production to occur and increase. Animal production will have to become increasingly efficient and will involve veterinarians undertaking work to ensure this occurs and does not compromise the environment.

References

Abel, D. (2014) Farming facts. Farmers Club Issue 251: 17.

Andrews, A. H. (2014) Major factors influencing 2050 world food production. Veterinary Practice 46 (9): 50-51.

Andrews, A. H. (2014) Major factors influencing 2050 world food production – 2. Veterinary Practice 46 (10): 34-35.

DEFRA (2010) Household food and drink waste linked to food and drink purchases. pp1-11.

Food and Agricultural Organization (2011) Global Food Losses and Food Waste. Extent, Causes and Prevention; pp1-15.

Scarborough, P., Appleby, P. N., Mizdrak, A. et al (2014) Dietary greenhouse gas emissions of meat-eaters, fish-eaters, vegetarians and vegans in the UK. Climatic Change 125 (2): 179-192.