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By Ian Ross
President & CEO
GVF Group of Companies

With the negative press that the livestock industry is attracting due to its alleged net negative impacts on the environment as well as the livestock production limiting animal rights agenda, all of us who proudly participate in the production of meat, milk and eggs need to “read past the headlines” and become more knowledgeable and communicative about all the positive impacts of livestock production on food, and more importantly, digestible protein security, as well as the efficiency gains and yes, even positive impacts of livestock on the environment.

Over the past several months, by attending webinars, reading scientific articles and collaborating with industry partners around the world, we are increasingly aware of the significant need for the increased production of meat, milk and eggs for a growing population that is often deficient in their daily requirement of digestible protein. We are increasingly confident that when science catches up with creation, the importance of range land, crop production and woodlots to carbon sequestration and the upcycling of raw materials that are inedible to humans as well as the upcycling of human food waste into meat, milk and eggs will become readily apparent. “The world is hyper-focused on emissions without also considering sequestration, and agriculture is essentially the only industry that has carbon capture as its central function.”1

One key source of information on this topic has been through Livestock Research and Innovation Corp (LRIC) who hosted a Horizons Series webinar in September, featuring Dr. Vaughn Holder from Alltech. The following is a significant portion of the White Paper that was published by LRIC following this 45 minute webinar. To read the entire White Paper or to view the webinar, please visit: livestockresearch.ca/white_papers and look for Livestock and Society.

Why it matters to the Ontario Livestock Industry:

Society is changing at an incredibly rapid pace. Industries and supply chains have been forced to become more flexible as a global pandemic, war in Ukraine and Russia, and a diminishing work force have challenged these systems.

In the next 30 years an influx in population of about 2 to 3 billion will become the new reality. The population will be much wealthier with a higher quality of life than ever before. Trends in protein consumption indicate that wealthier populations intake higher amounts of protein (Moughan, 2021). Protein production will have to adapt to its changing consumer demographic and needs. Approximately 4% of the earth’s surface is appropriate for crop cultivation (Rotz et al., 2019). Climate change is present and looming. As a result, food production is more challenging for the future as resources such as water and arable land, become scarcer. If the future is to be fully food secure, we must consider all options for producing high quality protein to feed the population as the removal of animal agriculture would create a massive protein deficit that cannot be overcome by growing crops due to the limitation on available arable land.

What can Livestock Farmers do?:

Eighty-six percent of global livestock feed is classified as inedible to humans (Moughan, 2021). Livestock, especially ruminants, can convert human-inedible raw materials into high quality food (particularly protein) for people. That food has unparalleled nutritional density (Mottet et al., 2017).

The Ontario Livestock Industry has an opportunity to change the negative viewpoints on animal agriculture and educate consumers, media, and the public on why Ontario livestock production is highly valued and should be encouraged. This message is important for consumers to understand as we transition into a world with a higher population and limited resources.

Reviews done regarding protein digestibility and amino acid composition comparing animal proteins to animal-free proteins are great sources of information outlining the benefits from animal protein that cannot be achieved artificially. Relaying this information to the sources criticizing animal protein is important for the Ontario livestock Industry in order to get facts into the foreground.

Adopting regenerative practices (see white paper on Regenerative Agriculture) has extensive benefits regarding the climate crisis. Regenerative techniques have many benefits, the most valued is the ability for carbon sequestration via multi-species grazing systems. Not only do regenerative techniques like rotational grazing create a carbon sink, but techniques in the regenerative model can also improve soil health, prevent drought and floods, decrease nitrogen runoff, improve water quality, create biodiversity, and manage pests (LaCanne & Lundgren, 2018). Regenerative practices have proven themselves and will become the new common practice to offset emissions in the agricultural industry. Improving degraded land is critical for maintaining and increasing livestock and food production. Food security depends on healthy and resilient systems.

Cultural Change / Challenges

Many of these new proteins which companies like Impossible Foods Inc and Beyond Meat, are simply repackaging existing nutrients into plant-based meats, milks, and similar products. While there is nothing inherently wrong with that, we should not consider these to be a part of global protein supply, as those nutrients could have been consumed directly in the form of the crops used to make them. Even the lab grown meats will need to be “fed” with existing amino acids from our existing supply, meaning that there is zero net contribution to global protein security from such products. A robust conversation of the future protein security of the world must focus on maximizing the efficient use of the resources that we have, to produce protein, and to do so without unintended social, cultural, and environmental consequences.

Research Gaps

Much of the anti-livestock sentiment in mainstream conversation is associated with the idea that livestock are bad for the environment. Critics focus very heavily on the emissions and pollution side of the equation, and very little on the effects of livestock on nutrient cycling through the environment and even carbon sequestration. We need to commit to understanding the role of livestock in ecosystems to quantify its effects on the environment.

1 Dr. Vaughn Holder, Research Project Manager, in Beef Nutrition at Alltech.

This article was written for the Winter 2022 Swine Grist. To read the whole Swine Grist, click the button below.