Production losses link to cattle industry's environmental impact

Published on: Mar 13, 2013

Losses within dairy and beef production systems directly influence the environmental impact of a particular system, livestock sustainability professional Dr. Jude Capper explained at the American Feed Industry Assn. nutrition symposium in Ft. Worth, Texas.

Capper noted that such things as nutrition, morbidity, mortality, parasites, poor reproduction, antibiotic residues, carcass defects and feed shrink all play a role in the resulting carbon footprint of animal agriculture.

As the cattle industry strives to not only be economically viable but also environmentally responsible and socially acceptable, which Capper suggested should be its overall objective, she said technology can play a significant role. Some would argue that land and improved crop yields will get the industry to where it needs to be, but she pointed out that is not likely and that rather 70% of the increase in projected food production needed to feed the world’s growing population will need to come from the use of technology.

According to Capper, if the European Union allowed performance technologies to be used in the 244 million metric tons of beef it imports each year, the carbon footprint of EU beef imports would be cut by 755 million metric tons, or an equivalent to taking 149 million cars off the road each year.

Here in the United States, extra beef from growth-enhancing technologies on a single carcass supplies seven children with school lunches for a whole year, an extra 10 lb. of milk per day from a single dairy cow supplies 31 children with milk at school lunch for a whole year and the extra beef produced via effective parasite control in a 35-cow herd supplies 19 families with their annual beef demand, Capper said her calculation show.

According to the World Organization for Animal Health, at the worldwide level average losses due to animal diseases are more than 20%.

Capper noted that she does not believe any one solution exists for reducing the cattle industry’s environmental impact and that instead it will come down to more individualized approaches. “What might work on ranch A, may not work on ranch B, so it is important we consider  that rather than put in place blanket changes that supposedly have application across the industry,” she said.