The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) is leading a newly formed partnership focused on improving how livestock industry environmental impacts are measured and assessed. In a recent news release, the FAO indicated this effort is a necessary first step toward improving this important food production sector’s sustainability.

FAO notes that livestock production and the consumption of animal products make a crucial contribution to the economic and nutritional well-being of millions of people around the world – particularly in developing countries. The news release also states that as the global consumption of meat, dairy products and eggs continues to rise, increasing attention is being paid to the livestock sector's environmental performance, with emphasis placed on the efficiency with which it uses scarce natural resources, its  impact on water resources, and how it contributes to climate change.

At the recent Rio+20 sustainable development conference, governments agreed on the necessity of making agricultural production more sustainable and stressed, in particular, the need to shift to more sustainable livestock production systems, according to FAO. 

Currently, many different methods are being used to measure and assess the environmental impacts of livestock production, making it difficult to compare results and set priorities for the continuous improvement of environmental performance along supply chains.

"We must establish a shared understanding of how to assess the environmental performance of the livestock sector," said Pierre Gerber, a Senior FAO livestock policy officer. "The goal is to improve that performance and create more sustainable forms of production that will continue to provide food and income. To do that, we need reliable, quantitative information on key environmental parameters along livestock supply chains, as an evidence base from which to drive improvements."

FAO and governmental, private-sector and non-governmental partners will work together as part of a collaborative effort on a number of fronts to strengthen the science of environmental benchmarking when it comes to livestock supply chains.

Activities planned for the initial three-year phase of the project include:

·         Establishing science-based methods and guidelines on how to quantify livestock's carbon footprint, covering various types of livestock operations and rearing systems;

·         Creating a database of greenhouse gas emission factors generated for the production of different kinds of animal feed, feed production and use offer significant opportunities for reducing livestock emissions.

·         Developing a methodology for measuring other important environmental pressures, such as water consumption and nutrient losses.

·         Initiating a communications campaign to promote use of the partnership's methodologies and findings.

 

Learn more at the FAO website at http://www.fao.org/news/story/en/item/150555/icode/.