Animal-based agriculture has endured a great deal of criticism with regard to its contributions to climate change and its other environmental impacts. But its contributions to a sustainable food system are by no means all bad. In fact, livestock play important roles in sustainable, regenerative agro-food systems.
Animals’ natural biological processes enable them to consume plant and food residues that are either indigestible by humans, unpalatable to people, or are no longer sellable for various reasons, all referred to as IUUB biomass. There are many examples.
One dairy farm receives daily deliveries of apple waste from a processing facility that supplies apple slices for school lunches. Another local dairy gets three truckloads of vegetable and fruit discards, along with expired bread products, each week. No longer useful for consumers, these foodstuffs become feed for cattle rather than going to a landfill. Even the booming market for plant-based foods like artificial meat for consumers has generated a surge of processing byproducts that can be consumed by livestock.
On a national scale, livestock are consuming millions of pounds of otherwise unusable IUUB created in the production of products like soybean and canola oils, orange juice, ethanol, and more.
While the livestock industry needs to keep working to minimize its environmental impact and there are many reasons to eat less meat, livestock farming is an integral part of our agro-food systems. Farmers are embracing techniques to produce meat, milk and eggs as efficiently and sustainably as possible, minimizing agriculture’s climate-contributing footprint in the process.
Photo, posted May 11, 2019, courtesy of Theo Stikkelman via Flickr.