Biodiversity and Livestock

Pandemics Ahead: Number 6 in a series looking at the link between animal protein and global health disasters.

Excerpt from Meat Climate Change: The 2nd Leading Cause of Global Warming by Moses Seenarine, (2016). Xpyr Press, 348 pages ISBN: 0692641157)

Human carnivory is the single greatest threat to biodiversity.(863) Animal carcass and feedstock production are expanding quickly in biodiversity-rich developing countries. The sheer quantity of animals being raised for human consumption poses an enormous threat to the Earth's biodiversity. Livestock occupies up to 75% of all agricultural lands, 30% of Earth's land surface, and 20% of the total terrestrial animal biomass.(864)

The land area dedicated to producing domesticates was once habitat for wildlife. In 306 of the 825 terrestrial eco-regions, livestock is identified as "a current threat." And, 23 of Conservation International's 35 "global hotspots for biodiversity," characterized by serious levels of habitat loss, are affected by food animal production.(865) Much of the biodiversity loss due to agriculture is occurring in Latin America, Sub-Saharan Africa, and South and South-East Asia. 

Forests are either logged or burned to make room for grasslands, and often the area needed is extensive. Ruminant production can erode biodiversity through a dozen processes, namely (i) forest loss and degradation, (ii) land-use intensification, (iii) exotic plant invasions, (iv) soil erosion, (v) persecution of large predators, and (vi) competition with wildlife for resources. Deforestation can in turn create (vii) fragmentation, allowing only patches of habitat for species to live. If patches are distant and small, then (viii) gene flow is reduced and (ix) there will be a greater chance for invasive species to intrude. Fencing to convert an open range into ranches can (x) cut the migration routes of wild animals, and (xi) keep them away from waterholes. On top of this, (xii) fencing can trigger overgrazing by cattle. Also, hunting, fishing and other forms of exploitation are a major factor in declines in wildlife populations.(866)

The threat of extinction also affects food animals. Over 17% of the world's 8,774 agricultural breeds risk extinction. This is mostly due to the increasing worldwide use of non-native breeds and the neglect of breeds that are not “competitive” on the global market. Native food animals do not produce as much flesh, milk, eggs or other goods as the most popular commercial breeds.(867) There are a shocking 1,458 potential extinctions of all breeds of agricultural animals like cattle, goats, pigs, and chickens, due to disease, climate change, neglect, and inbreeding. Already 100 food animal breeds went extinct in this century.

Carbon footprints can serve as an approximate indicator of the environmental impact of domesticate production. One team comparing the carbon footprint (CF) and the volume of GHGs (greenhouse gas) emitted during the lifecycle of pig, chicken, and cow carcass production, discovered that how biodiversity is affected varies.(868) There can be contrasting effects from intensification. Higher intensities of production can allow larger areas to be left in its natural state. On the other hand, intensification involves greater use of pesticides, fertilizers, and monocropping locally, which threatens biodiversity around feed crops.

The CF of livestock acts as an indicator of acidification and eutrophication, as well. Improving the efficiency of nitrogen will lead to less eutrophying and acidifying substances being released into the environment, and to lower GHG pollution in N2O form. GHG mitigation strategies based on reduced livestock consumption likewise creates less acidification and eutrophication. Diminished GHG outflows due to lower food animal intake mean less land is required for feed production, so CF can act as a proxy for land use also. Although there are inconsistencies between CF of livestock and environmental impacts, CF can be used as part of the current momentum of carbon footprinting and pricing.

Chapter 23: 6TH MASS EXTINCTION, page 226

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