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Two E. coli cases linked to livestock close Washington school

Two young Washington state girls are hospitalized with complications from E. coli infection and their school has been temporarily closed for cleaning. One of the girls has reportedly developed hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), a serious kidney condition linked to E. coli infection.

Health officials said the source of their exposure to Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC) bacteria was probably not food but contact with animals.

http://www.dreamstime.com/royalty-free-stock-photo-petting-zoo-image1008725

Contact with livestock can be a source of E. coli infection. (Photo illustration)

“The exact source of contamination in E. coli can be very difficult to identify, but at this point we believe the children were likely exposed to livestock near their home,” said Dr. Gary Goldbaum, health officer and director of the Snohomish Health District.

A health district Facebook posting indicated that, “… based on our Communicable Disease team’s initial investigation and interviews with family, we do not believe this was caused by a food source.”

The Monroe Montessori School in Monroe, WA, was temporarily closed on Wednesday, and nobody answered the phone there on Thursday. Approximately 60 students and staff members were said to have potentially been exposed to the bacteria and were being tested for the infection.

A health district statement issued Wednesday noted that the school “has temporarily closed for disinfecting as a precaution,” and that the school, the district, the Washington State Department of Health and the Washington State Department of Early Learning were coordinating on the E. coli testing.

Contact with livestock in a rural area, a farm, or a petting zoo are common sources of E. coli bacteria. An outbreak of E. coli O157:H7 infection last year in Washington state was traced to a fairgrounds dairy barn in Lynden, WA. That outbreak sickened 25 people, mostly young children, and hospitalized 10 of them.

Symptoms of STEC infections vary for each person but often include severe stomach cramps, diarrhea that is often bloody, and vomiting. If there is fever, it usually is less than 101 degrees F. Most people get better within five to seven days as infections can be mild, but others can be severe or even life-threatening.

Young children and the elderly are more likely to experience serious illness. People with weakened immune systems, including pregnant women, are also at risk for serious illness.

Between 5 and 10 percent of those diagnosed with E. coli O157 infection develop the potentially life-threatening complication of hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS). Clues that a person is developing HUS include decreased frequency of urination, feeling very tired, and losing pink color in cheeks and inside the lower eyelids.

People with HUS should be hospitalized because their kidneys may stop working and they may develop other serious problems. Most people who develop HUS recover within a few weeks, but some suffer permanent damage or die.

Handwashing is the most effective way to reduce chances of getting sick. Adults should supervise young children to make sure they don’t put their hands in their mouths and make sure that their hands are washed thoroughly, especially after using the bathroom.

The spread of illnesses from animals, such as those caused by E. coli, are commonly linked to hand-to-mouth contact. It is also important to avoid swallowing water when swimming and playing in lakes, ponds, streams, swimming pools, and backyard “kiddie” pools.

More information about STEC and other types of E. coli can be found here.

(To sign up for a free subscription to Food Safety News, click here.)

Food Safety News

Food labels can reduce livestock environmental impacts, study shows

With global food demand expected to outpace the availability of water by the year 2050, consumers can make a big difference in reducing the water used in livestock production.

“It’s important to know that small changes on the consumer side can help, and in fact may be necessary, to achieve big results in a production system,” said Robin White, lead researcher of a Washington State University study appearing in the journal Food Policy.

White and WSU economist Mike Brady demonstrated that the willingness of consumers to pay a little more for meat products labeled to reflect a single, environmentally friendly production practice, such as water conservation, can add up to real change.

But such single-focus labels don’t yet exist, and labels that are available can be confusing and misleading.

Saving billions of gallons of water

The study shows that meat packers and retailers can play a key role in creating incentives for water-saving livestock production with labels that appeal to consumer values, White said.

White and Brady found that by paying 10 percent more for environmentally labeled meat products, consumers could bring about huge water savings in livestock production. In 2013, the U.S. produced 26 billion pounds of beef. Based on this number, White estimated that 76 to 129 billion gallons of water could be saved annually.

On the upper end, this equals the water used annually by 3.5 million people, roughly the population of the greater Seattle metropolitan area.

White, a postdoctoral scholar with the National Animal Nutrition Program, conducted the research as part of her doctoral studies in the Department of Animal Sciences at WSU.

Single vs. multiple label claims

“It is difficult to tease out a product’s true environmental impact from currently available labels,” said White. “Consumers may believe a label represents an environmental, health or animal welfare benefit but it’s difficult for them to really know.”

White and Brady were able to distinguish and compare consumers’ willingness to pay for meat products with labels that reflect a single attribute of reducing environmental impact and labels that represent a suite of attributes. Among the purely environmental labels, they evaluated different price premiums to find the sweet spot — where the lowest premium that consumers found palatable would also cover the costs to the producer of reducing water use.

The study also demonstrated that moderate price premiums for all cuts of meat that are acceptable to the average consumer will have a greater impact on water conservation than high premiums for a few niche products.

Growing greener grass

White explained that cow/calf operations represent an opportunity to significantly reduce water use in beef production. Feeding pregnant cows and suckling calves typically requires pasture or rangeland and represents a substantial maintenance cost. Yet, in the U.S., intensive, more efficient pasture management is not what it could be, White said.

Growing grass more efficiently through strategic irrigation, fertilization and grazing strategies can significantly improve yield and save water but adds to producer cost. However, the price premiums associated with environmental labels can offset those costs.

The livestock industry wants to demonstrate improvements in sustainability, White said. To do so, growers need consumer cooperation and willingness to pay a little more for products produced with a reduced environmental impact.

“This study demonstrated that consumers are willing,” White said. “Now we just need to connect the dots to accurately represent a product’s environmental impact in a way that is meaningful, understandable and attractive to consumers.”

Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Washington State University. The original article was written by Sylvia Kantor. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

Agriculture and Food News — ScienceDaily

Food labels can reduce livestock environmental impacts, study shows

With global food demand expected to outpace the availability of water by the year 2050, consumers can make a big difference in reducing the water used in livestock production.

“It’s important to know that small changes on the consumer side can help, and in fact may be necessary, to achieve big results in a production system,” said Robin White, lead researcher of a Washington State University study appearing in the journal Food Policy.

White and WSU economist Mike Brady demonstrated that the willingness of consumers to pay a little more for meat products labeled to reflect a single, environmentally friendly production practice, such as water conservation, can add up to real change.

But such single-focus labels don’t yet exist, and labels that are available can be confusing and misleading.

Saving billions of gallons of water

The study shows that meat packers and retailers can play a key role in creating incentives for water-saving livestock production with labels that appeal to consumer values, White said.

White and Brady found that by paying 10 percent more for environmentally labeled meat products, consumers could bring about huge water savings in livestock production. In 2013, the U.S. produced 26 billion pounds of beef. Based on this number, White estimated that 76 to 129 billion gallons of water could be saved annually.

On the upper end, this equals the water used annually by 3.5 million people, roughly the population of the greater Seattle metropolitan area.

White, a postdoctoral scholar with the National Animal Nutrition Program, conducted the research as part of her doctoral studies in the Department of Animal Sciences at WSU.

Single vs. multiple label claims

“It is difficult to tease out a product’s true environmental impact from currently available labels,” said White. “Consumers may believe a label represents an environmental, health or animal welfare benefit but it’s difficult for them to really know.”

White and Brady were able to distinguish and compare consumers’ willingness to pay for meat products with labels that reflect a single attribute of reducing environmental impact and labels that represent a suite of attributes. Among the purely environmental labels, they evaluated different price premiums to find the sweet spot — where the lowest premium that consumers found palatable would also cover the costs to the producer of reducing water use.

The study also demonstrated that moderate price premiums for all cuts of meat that are acceptable to the average consumer will have a greater impact on water conservation than high premiums for a few niche products.

Growing greener grass

White explained that cow/calf operations represent an opportunity to significantly reduce water use in beef production. Feeding pregnant cows and suckling calves typically requires pasture or rangeland and represents a substantial maintenance cost. Yet, in the U.S., intensive, more efficient pasture management is not what it could be, White said.

Growing grass more efficiently through strategic irrigation, fertilization and grazing strategies can significantly improve yield and save water but adds to producer cost. However, the price premiums associated with environmental labels can offset those costs.

The livestock industry wants to demonstrate improvements in sustainability, White said. To do so, growers need consumer cooperation and willingness to pay a little more for products produced with a reduced environmental impact.

“This study demonstrated that consumers are willing,” White said. “Now we just need to connect the dots to accurately represent a product’s environmental impact in a way that is meaningful, understandable and attractive to consumers.”

Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Washington State University. The original article was written by Sylvia Kantor. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

Agriculture and Food News — ScienceDaily

Food labels can reduce livestock environmental impacts, study shows

With global food demand expected to outpace the availability of water by the year 2050, consumers can make a big difference in reducing the water used in livestock production.

“It’s important to know that small changes on the consumer side can help, and in fact may be necessary, to achieve big results in a production system,” said Robin White, lead researcher of a Washington State University study appearing in the journal Food Policy.

White and WSU economist Mike Brady demonstrated that the willingness of consumers to pay a little more for meat products labeled to reflect a single, environmentally friendly production practice, such as water conservation, can add up to real change.

But such single-focus labels don’t yet exist, and labels that are available can be confusing and misleading.

Saving billions of gallons of water

The study shows that meat packers and retailers can play a key role in creating incentives for water-saving livestock production with labels that appeal to consumer values, White said.

White and Brady found that by paying 10 percent more for environmentally labeled meat products, consumers could bring about huge water savings in livestock production. In 2013, the U.S. produced 26 billion pounds of beef. Based on this number, White estimated that 76 to 129 billion gallons of water could be saved annually.

On the upper end, this equals the water used annually by 3.5 million people, roughly the population of the greater Seattle metropolitan area.

White, a postdoctoral scholar with the National Animal Nutrition Program, conducted the research as part of her doctoral studies in the Department of Animal Sciences at WSU.

Single vs. multiple label claims

“It is difficult to tease out a product’s true environmental impact from currently available labels,” said White. “Consumers may believe a label represents an environmental, health or animal welfare benefit but it’s difficult for them to really know.”

White and Brady were able to distinguish and compare consumers’ willingness to pay for meat products with labels that reflect a single attribute of reducing environmental impact and labels that represent a suite of attributes. Among the purely environmental labels, they evaluated different price premiums to find the sweet spot — where the lowest premium that consumers found palatable would also cover the costs to the producer of reducing water use.

The study also demonstrated that moderate price premiums for all cuts of meat that are acceptable to the average consumer will have a greater impact on water conservation than high premiums for a few niche products.

Growing greener grass

White explained that cow/calf operations represent an opportunity to significantly reduce water use in beef production. Feeding pregnant cows and suckling calves typically requires pasture or rangeland and represents a substantial maintenance cost. Yet, in the U.S., intensive, more efficient pasture management is not what it could be, White said.

Growing grass more efficiently through strategic irrigation, fertilization and grazing strategies can significantly improve yield and save water but adds to producer cost. However, the price premiums associated with environmental labels can offset those costs.

The livestock industry wants to demonstrate improvements in sustainability, White said. To do so, growers need consumer cooperation and willingness to pay a little more for products produced with a reduced environmental impact.

“This study demonstrated that consumers are willing,” White said. “Now we just need to connect the dots to accurately represent a product’s environmental impact in a way that is meaningful, understandable and attractive to consumers.”

Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Washington State University. The original article was written by Sylvia Kantor. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

Agriculture and Food News — ScienceDaily

No sign of health or nutrition problems from GMO livestock feed, study finds

A new scientific review from the University of California, Davis, reports that the performance and health of food-producing animals consuming genetically engineered feed, first introduced 18 years ago, has been comparable to that of animals consuming non-GE feed.

The review study also found that scientific studies have detected no differences in the nutritional makeup of the meat, milk or other food products derived from animals that ate genetically engineered feed.

The review, led by UC Davis animal scientist Alison Van Eenennaam, examined nearly 30 years of livestock-feeding studies that represent more than 100 billion animals.

Titled “Prevalence and Impacts of Genetically Engineered Feedstuffs on Livestock Populations,” the review article is now available online in open-access form through the American Society of Animal Science.

Genetically engineered crops were first introduced in 1996. Today, 19 genetically engineered plant species are approved for use in the United States, including the major crops used extensively in animal feed: alfalfa, canola, corn, cotton, soybean and sugar beet.

Food-producing animals such as cows, pigs, goats, chickens and other poultry species now consume 70 to 90 percent of all genetically engineered crops, according to the new UC Davis review. In the United States, alone, 9 billion food-producing animals are produced annually, with 95 percent of them consuming feed that contains genetically engineered ingredients.

“Studies have continually shown that the milk, meat and eggs derived from animals that have consumed GE feed are indistinguishable from the products derived from animals fed a non-GE diet,” Van Eenennaam said. “Therefore, proposed labeling of animal products from livestock and poultry that have eaten GE feed would require supply-chain segregation and traceability, as the products themselves would not differ in any way that could be detected.”

Now that a second generation of genetically engineered crops that have been optimized for livestock feed is on the horizon, there is a pressing need to internationally harmonize the regulatory framework for these products, she said.

“To avoid international trade disruptions, it is critical that the regulatory approval process for genetically engineered products be established in countries importing these feeds at the same time that regulatory approvals are passed in the countries that are major exporters of animal feed,” Van Eenennaam said.

Collaborating on the study was co-author Amy E. Young in the UC Davis Department of Animal Science.

The review study was supported by funds from the W.K. Kellogg endowment and the California Agricultural Experiment Station of UC Davis.

Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of California – Davis. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

Agriculture and Food News — ScienceDaily

Climate: Meat turns up the heat as livestock emit greenhouse gases

Eating meat contributes to climate change, due to greenhouse gasses emitted by livestock. New research finds that livestock emissions are on the rise and that beef cattle are responsible for far more greenhouse gas emissions than other types of animals. It is published by Climactic Change.

Carbon dioxide is the most-prevalent gas when it comes to climate change. It is released by vehicles, industry, and forest removal and comprises the greatest portion of greenhouse gas totals. But methane and nitrous oxide are also greenhouse gasses and account for approximately 28 percent of global warming activity.

Methane and nitrous oxide are released, in part, by livestock. Animals release methane as a result of microorganisms that are involved in their digestive processes and nitrous oxide from decomposing manure. These two gasses are responsible for a quarter of these non-carbon dioxide gas emissions and 9 percent of total greenhouse gas emissions overall.

The research team, including Dario Caro, formerly of Carnegie and now at the University of Siena in Italy, and Carnegie’s Ken Caldeira, estimated the greenhouse gas emissions related to livestock in 237 countries over a nearly half a century and found that livestock emissions increased by 51 percent over this period.

They found a stark difference between livestock-related emissions in the developing world, which accounts for most of this increase, and that released by developed countries. This is expected to increase further going forward, as demand for meat, dairy products, and eggs is predicted by some scientists to double by 2050. By contrast, developed countries reached maximum livestock emissions in the 1970s and have been in decline since that time.

“The developing world is getting better at reducing greenhouse emissions caused by each animal, but this improvement is not keeping up with the increasing demand for meat,” said Caro. “As a result, greenhouse gas emissions from livestock keep going up and up in much of the developing world.”

Breaking it down by animal, beef and dairy cattle comprised 74 percent of livestock-related greenhouse gas emissions, 54 percent coming from beef cattle and 17 percent from dairy cattle. Part of this is due to the abundance of cows, but it is also because cattle emit greater quantities of methane and nitrous oxide than other animals. Sheep comprised 9 percent, buffalo 7 percent, pigs 5 percent, and goats 4 percent.

“That tasty hamburger is the real culprit,” Caldeira said. “It might be better for the environment if we all became vegetarians, but a lot of improvement could come from eating pork or chicken instead of beef.”

Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Carnegie Institution. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

Agriculture and Food News — ScienceDaily

Africa’s poison ‘apple’ provides common ground for saving elephants, raising livestock

While African wildlife often run afoul of ranchers and pastoralists securing food and water resources for their animals, the interests of fauna and farmer might finally be unified by the “Sodom apple,” a toxic invasive plant that has overrun vast swaths of East African savanna and pastureland.

Should the ominous reference to the smitten biblical city be unclear, the Sodom apple, or Solanum campylacanthum, is a wicked plant. Not a true apple, this relative of the eggplant smothers native grasses with its thorny stalks, while its striking yellow fruit provides a deadly temptation to sheep and cattle.

New research suggests, however, that certain wild African animals, particularly elephants, could be a boon to human-raised livestock because of their voracious appetite for the Sodom apple. A five-year study led by Princeton University researchers found that elephants and impalas, among other wild animals, can not only safely gorge themselves on the plant, but can efficiently regulate its otherwise explosive growth, according to a report in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B. Without elephants ripping the plant from the ground, or impalas devouring dozens of its fruits at a time, the shrub easily conquers the landscape.

Just as the governments of nations such as Kenya prepare to pour millions into eradicating the plant, the findings present a method for controlling the Sodom apple that is cost-effective for humans and beneficial for the survival of African elephants, explained first author Robert Pringle, a Princeton assistant professor of ecology and evolutionary biology.

“The Holy Grail in ecology is these win-win situations where we can preserve wildlife in a way that is beneficial to human livelihoods,” Pringle said. Similarly, Princeton researchers published two studies in 2011 that showed that allowing livestock to graze with wild animals such as zebras greatly improved the quality of the domesticated animals’ diet.

“It’s a nice example of how conservation needn’t be about sacrifice. It often is — let’s be honest. But there are situations where you can get a win-win,” Pringle said. “This opens the door for people whose main interest is cattle to say, ‘Maybe I do want elephants on my land.’ Elephants have a reputation as destructive, but they may be playing a role in keeping pastures grassy.”

Elephants and impalas can withstand S. campylacanthum‘s poison because they belong to a class of herbivores known as “browsers” that subsist on woody plants and shrubs, many species of which pack a toxic punch, Pringle said. On the other hand, “grazers” such as cows, sheep and zebras primarily eat grass, which is rarely poisonous. These animals easily succumb to the Sodom apple. A 2011 study on sheep published in the journal Kenya Veterinarian showed that the plant caused emphysema, pneumonia, bleeding ulcers, brain swelling and death, among other effects.

As more African savanna is converted into pasture, the proliferation of the Sodom apple may only get worse, Pringle said, which means that the presence of elephants to eat it may become more vital to the ecosystem and livestock. The Sodom apple thrives on ecological mayhem, such as the stress of overgrazing put on the land, Pringle said: “Typically, people will overload the land with more cattle than it can support. Then they remove the animals that eat the plant.”

Ricardo Holdo, a savanna ecologist and assistant professor of biological sciences at the University of Missouri, said that the researchers present enough data to potentially determine the amount of pastureland that wild Sodom-apple eaters would be able to keep free of the noxious plant. Holdo, who is familiar with the research but had no role in it, said that beyond removing the Sodom apple, animals such as elephants and impalas could potentially increase the food available to cattle. This is a departure from the conventional view in Africa that livestock and wild animals compete for the same scarce resources, he said.

“There is enough quantitative information in this paper that they can probably model this effect in a meaningful way,” Holdo said. “When you add the wild [herbivores], they have a negative effect on the Solanum, so they’re actually promoting a higher biomass of high-quality habitat for livestock. So, it’s a win-win in the sense that you’re creating a situation in which you can both have livestock and wild animals, and probably actually increase your yield for livestock.”

The researchers report that they have presented one of the first studies to examine “functional redundancy” in land animals. Functional redundancy refers to the situation in which one species declines or goes extinct and another species steps in to fulfill the same ecological role. This consideration helps ecologists predict the overall effect of extinction on an entire ecosystem. In this case, the effect of large mammals such as elephants and impalas on the Sodom apple population — and perhaps the populations of other plants — is unlikely to be duplicated by another animal species, the researchers found.

“That’s an important question because some species are quite vulnerable to extinction and others aren’t,” Pringle said. “The ones that go first tend to be the biggest, or the tastiest, or the ones with ivory tusks. We’re trying to gauge how the world is changing, and we need to understand to what extent these threatened animals have unique ecological functions.”

The majority of studies on functional redundancy have been conducted in aquatic systems because large land animals can be hard to control in an experiment, Holdo said. The Princeton-led study is made more robust by being unusually long by ecology standards, he said — the researchers observed similar patterns year after year.

“A big part of the reason we don’t understand functional redundancy very well in terrestrial ecosystems is because it’s difficult to manipulate land species,” he said. “Doing these experiments in the kind of environment like you have in Kenya is really challenging — keeping elephants out of anything is really a huge challenge.”

An unexpected feast: Elephants, impalas and a taste for Solanum

Pringle was roughly three years into a study about the effects of elephants on plant diversity when he noticed that the Sodom apple was conspicuously absent from some experiment sites. He and other researchers had set up 36 exclosures — which are designed to keep animals out rather than in — totaling nearly 89 acres (36 hectares) at the Mpala Research Center in Kenya, a multi-institutional research preserve with which Princeton has been long involved. There were four types of exclosure: one type open to all animals; another where only elephants were excluded; one in which elephants and impalas were excluded; and another off limits to all animals.

It was in the sites that excluded elephants and impala that the Sodom apple particularly flourished, Pringle said, which defied everything he knew about the plant.

“This study was really fortuitous. I had always thought that these fruits were horrible and toxic, but when I saw them in the experiment, I knew some animal was otherwise eating them. I just didn’t know which one,” Pringle said. “The question became, ‘Who’s eating the apple?’ It’s a very interesting and simple question, but once you get the answer it raises a lot of other questions.”

Using the exclosures established for the original experiment, Pringle and his co-authors used cameras to document the zest with which wild African browsers will eat S. campylacanthum. Pringle worked with Corina Tarnita, a Princeton mathematical biologist and assistant professor of ecology and evolutionary biology, as well as with collaborators from the University of Wyoming, the University of Florida, the University of California-Davis, the Mpala Center and the University of British Columbia.

The researchers specifically observed the foraging activity of elephants, impalas, small-dog-sized antelopes known as dik-diks, and rodents. They captured about 30,000 hours of foraging using cameras they had focused on particular plants. The researchers also marked several hundred Sodom-apple fruit to track how many were eaten, and measured the average height, mortality and reproducibility of Sodom-apple plants in all the exclosures.

The Sodom apple proliferated with each group of animal that was excluded. At one point, the plant’s density was three-times greater in areas restricted to all animals than those that permitted all of them, the researchers report. In February 2011, the researchers counted an average of less than one fruit per plant in the exclosure open to all animals, meaning that nearly every fruit produced by the plants was being consumed. In the plots closed to elephants, that average increased to three fruits per plant. When both impala and elephants were kept away, the average jumped to around 50 fruits per plant, and fruits were more likely to be eaten by insects rather than dik-diks or rodents.

There is a catch to the elephants’ and impalas’ appetite for the Sodom apple: When fruit goes in one end, seeds come out the other. Though some seeds are destroyed during digestion, most reemerge and are potentially able to germinate.

Pringle and Tarnita developed a mathematical model to conduct a sort of cost-benefit analysis of how the Sodom apple’s ability to proliferate is affected by being eaten. The model weighed the “cost” to the plant of being partially consumed against the potential benefit of having healthy seeds scattered across the countryside in an animal’s droppings. They then used the model to determine whether different animal species had an overall positive or negative influence on the population of Sodom-apple plants.

While elephants ate an enormous amount of Solanum seeds, they also often destroyed the entire plant, ripping it out of the ground and stuffing the whole bush into their mouths. The model showed that to offset the damage an elephant wreaks on a plant, 80 percent of the seeds the animal eats would have to emerge from it unscathed. On top of that, each seed would have to be 10-times more likely to take root than one that simply fell to the ground from its parent.

Impalas, on the other hand, can have a positive overall effect on the plants, the researchers found. Impalas ate the majority of the fruit consumed — one impala ate 18 fruit in just a few minutes. But they do not severely damage the parent plant while feeding and also spread a lot of seeds in their dung. Of the seeds eaten by an impala, only 60 percent would need to survive, and those seeds would have to be a mere three-times more likely to sprout than a seed that simply fell from its parent.

“A model allows you to explore a space you’re not fully able to reach experimentally,” said Tarnita, who uses math to understand the outcome of interactions between organisms. “Once you’ve explored it, however, the conclusions and predictions need to be confronted with reality. This model helped us conclude that although it is theoretically possible for elephants to benefit the plant, that outcome is extremely unlikely.”

Agriculture and Food News — ScienceDaily

New global maps of livestock distribution

Led by Marius Gilbert — Interfaculty School of Bioengineering , Université libre de Bruxelles — and Tim Robinson (ILRI, Kenya), an international researcher team established new global maps of livestock distribution. This study should help to measure the socio-economic, public health and environmental impacts of livestock and poultry, worldwide .

The evaluation of multiple socio- economic, environmental and public health around the livestock sector requires accurate accessible and comprehensive spatial data on the distribution and abundance of livestock.

A team of researchers led by Marius Gilbert, Research Associate of the FNRS — Laboratory of Biological Control and Spatial Ecology ( LUBIES ) , Interfaculty School of Bioengineering ( EIB , Université libre de Bruxelles) and Tim Robinson (International Livestock Research Institute, Nairobi, Kenya)publishes this week in PLoS ONE new global maps of livestock and poultry.

The map data that accompany this publication are distributed in open access under ” Creative Commons ” license, and can be viewed or downloaded via the platform “Livestock Geo- wiki” ( http://www.livestock.geo-wiki.org / ). This platform will also be used to distribute updates that will regularly be generated as new census data becomes available.

These data should help quantifying different types of impact of the livestock sector and contribute to the development of policies to promote a safe, sustainable and equitable sector development in the coming decades .

Livestock now represents the largest biomass among terrestrial vertebrates, ahead of that of the human population and far ahead of that of wild animals. In Belgium, for example, the density of pigs and poultry per km2 is one of the highest in the world . At the global scale, the growth in demand for livestock products has never been greater than today.

In developing countries, production of milk and meat have grown, from 1970 to today, at an average yearly rates of 5.1 and 3.6 percent respectively and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) forecasts that the demand for these commodities will increase by 73 % and 58 % between 2010 and 2030.

The growing livestock sector places ever greater pressure on our natural resources and the environment. It contributes significantly to global environmental change with a recently estimated 14.5% of anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions attributable to the sector, as well as through environmental problems associated with manure management and disruption of the nitrogen cycle in the soil, water and air.

Also of concern are the public health implications of livestock intensification. The widespread use of antibiotics in livestock, for preventive or curative purposes or as growth promoters directly contributes to the increasing prevalence of resistant strains of bacteria to antibiotics both at local and global levels . In many countries, the pressure on the land available for agriculture and livestock farmers pushes people and their livestock into ever-close proximity to natural areas that constitute the habitat of wildlife, which increases the chances of emergence and spread of zoonotic infectious agents originating in wild animals. Finally, it is estimated today that one in three human in the world — 1.46 billion — is obese or overweight, a problem to which of over-consumption of processed products of animal origin contributes significantly .

But livestock are also a source of livelihoods and food security for almost a billion people. As well as the actual economic benefits that livestock already confers on the economies and rural development in poor countries , and potential improvements in food security and nutrition, some 766 million poor farmers living with an income < $ 2 U.S. per day could directly benefit from improvements in this sector. This is particularly the case in mixed farming systems that combine crops and livestock , where livestock serves many functions in terms of animal traction and renewal of soil fertility.

Moreover , livestock grazing systems are also used to produce meat and milk in areas unsuitable for crop production. Today, nearly 800 million people are affected by food insecurity and the number of children affected by stunting due to malnutrition is estimated at 165 million. There has never been a greater need to ensure equitable, efficient and sustainable food production; the livestock sector plays an essential role in achieving this objective . The new global mapping of livestock and poultry will facilitate the assessment of impacts of livestock and to contribute to the development of appropriate policies.

This study is the result of a partnership between the Laboratory of Biological Control and Spatial Ecology (ULB , LUBIES ) , the International Livestock Research Institute ( ILRI , Nairobi , Kenya) , the Food and Agricultural Organization of the united Nations (FAO , Rome, Italy ) and the University of Oxford (United Kingdom). The platform release has been established by our collaborators at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) .

Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Libre de Bruxelles, Université. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

Agriculture and Food News — ScienceDaily

Environmental strategies on livestock farms: Results obtained after evaluation

The Basque Institute for Agricultural Research and Development (Neiker-Tecnalia) has coordinated the European BATFARM project, which is seeking to evaluate the effectiveness of technologies and practices used on livestock farms in the European Atlantic region in order to reduce their environmental impact on the air, water and soil.

In this project a detailed study has been made of the technologies present on livestock farms belonging to various regions in the Atlantic Area. Together with Neiker-Tecnalia, the public body that reports to the Sub-Ministry for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food Policy of the Government of the Basque Autonomous Community, the following are part of this project: Teagasc-The Agriculture and Food Development Authority (Ireland), IRSTEA (France), INTIA (Navarre), the University of Glasgow Caledonian (Scotland), and the Higher Institute for Agronomy (Portugal). Among the technologies evaluated in situ are floor type in cattle housing, use of additives in slurry storage, manure turning, flexible lagoons for collective slurry storage, biowashers for gases at the outlet of air ducts of the sheds, and the incorporating of slurry into the soil.

This initiative comes within the framework of the Atlantic Area Operational Programme for Transnational Co-operation 2007-2013. In this part of the continent a considerable proportion of livestock production takes place in line with the intensive model, as in the case of pig, poultry and a large proportion of cattle livestock. So the problems in managing livestock waste are shared by all the regions involved in the project.

The intensive production model provides considerable economic returns, but it poses numerous environmental problems, like the emissions of polluting gases (ammonia, nitrous oxide and methane) into the atmosphere and the polluting of soil and water by nitrates. In this respect, the members of the BATFARM project have developed software (BATFARM) to select the best farm waste technologies and practices to be applied according to the characteristics of the farm in question; it will enable the loss in nutrients (N, P, K, Cu, Zn) of the farm to be reduced, and the ammonia, methane and nitrous oxide emissions produced by each of the various production phases (housing, waste storage, waste treatment and the applying of it to the soil) to be cut. The software will shortly be available on the websites of the institutions that have participated in the building of this tool.

The outcomes of the project have been made available to the various interest groups, companies, livestock management bodies, policy-making bodies, research centres, end users and the general public. Finally, it should be pointed out that there is no single technology or practice to be recommended, but that these need to be studied for each case; however, the effectiveness of collective treatments in waste treatment and use has been made clear.

Directive on the adopting of Best Available Techniques

In connection with the environmental problems involved in livestock production, the EU 2010/75/EC Directive, also known as the IED (Industrial Emissions Directive), seeks to regulate all forms of emission into the atmosphere, water and soil coming from intensive livestock farms (farms with a population of over 40,000 hens, 2,000 fattening pigs or 750 sows), and makes the obtaining of comprehensive environmental authorisation compulsory. The Directive proposes adopting Best Available Techniques (BAT), which means farmers must choose and apply those technologies available on the market and which are economically affordable in farming, the ultimate aim being to prevent or limit emissions.

Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Basque Research. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

Agriculture and Food News — ScienceDaily

Cleveland, Pittsburgh Pass Resolutions Against Non-Therapeutic Use of Antibiotics in Livestock

Following Cleveland (OH) City Council action on March 17, the Pittsburgh (PA) City Council on March 25 passed a resolution calling for a nationwide ban on the non-therapeutic use of antibiotics in livestock production. Providence, RI, and Redhook, NJ, have approved similar resolutions, and the Seattle (WA) City Council may follow the same path on Monday.

According to the Pittsburgh City Paper, council members there were “among the first in the country” to pass such a resolution, which was requested by Food & Water Watch, a Washington, D.C.-based consumer rights group that has been active in trying to pass related measures in Congress.

FWW’s Alison Auciello said in a statement, “Factory farms feed low doses of antibiotics to livestock to promote unnatural growth and to compensate for filthy, crowded living conditions. As a result, we’re entering an age in which these life-saving medicines are no longer working to treat infections in humans. In a recent report, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that over two million people per year suffer from antibiotic-resistant infections, and at least 23,000 people die from them.”

The national bills are Protection of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act (PAMTA) in the U.S. House and the Prevention of Antibiotic Resistance Act (PARA) in the U.S. Senate.

Opponents of legislation to ban or restrict non-therapeutic uses of antibiotics in livestock say that antibiotics are a useful tool for keeping livestock healthy and that there is little to no evidence that restricting or eliminating their use in food-producing animals would improve human health.

According to the Animal Health Institute, whose members are mainly pharmaceutical companies, the government approval process for animal drugs is already stricter than it is for human drugs.

In Seattle, Resolution 31514 supports a statewide and national ban on non-therapeutic uses of antibiotics in livestock and “strongly urges” passage of House Bill 1150 (PAMTA) and Senate Bill 1256 (PARA). Resolution 31514 is scheduled to come before the Seattle City Council for a vote on Monday, April 7.

Meanwhile, at the University of Washington Medical Center’s Food and Nutrition program, officials recently announced that they are amending policy to state that all pork and poultry products served at UWMC will be completely antibiotic-free.

Food Safety News

Livestock can produce food that is better for people, planet

With one in seven humans undernourished, and with the challenges of population growth and climate change, the need for efficient food production has never been greater. Eight strategies to cut the environmental and economic costs of keeping livestock, such as cows, goats and sheep, while boosting the quantity and quality of the food produced have been outlined by an international team of scientists.

The strategies to make ruminant — cud-chewing — livestock a more sustainable part of the food supply, led by academics at the University of Bristol’s School of Veterinary Sciences, are outlined in a Comment piece in Nature this week.

The eight strategies include:

  • Feed animals less human food.

    Livestock consume an estimated one-third or more of the world’s cereal grain, which some advocate would be better used to feed people directly. Some of this could indeed be avoided by capitalising on ruminants’ ability to digest food that humans cannot eat, such as hay, silage and high-fibre crop residues.

  • Raise regionally appropriate animals.

    Working to boost yields from local breeds makes more sense in the long term than importing poorly adapted breeds that are successful elsewhere. European and North American Holstein dairy cows can produce 30 litres of milk a day. Thousands of these animals have been exported to Asia and Africa in an attempt to alleviate malnutrition. But exposed to hot climates, tropical diseases and sub-optimal housing, the cows produce much less milk, and the costs of feed and husbandry far exceed those of native breeds. Farmers, therefore, should be encouraged to keep and improve livestock adapted to local conditions.

  • Keep animals healthy.

    Human and livestock disease are generally treated as separate problems, but sick animals can make people sick. In low- and middle-income nations, 13 livestock-related zoonoses (diseases transferable between animals and humans) cause 2.4 billion cases of human illness and 2.2 million deaths each year. Animal management should include measures to control transmissible diseases, by improving hygiene, quarantining new arrivals on farms and establishing co-ordinated, sustained surveillance for diseases that cross the boundaries of species or countries.

  • Adopt smart supplements.

    Supplements can boost the productivity of ruminant animals by encouraging microbes in the rumen to grow quickly and provide the animals with better nutrition. Also, with some supplements, animals can produce more milk and meat for proportionally less greenhouse gas.

  • Eat quality not quantity.

    Raising animals for milk and meat is often considered at odds with the challenge of feeding a growing human population, but for undernourished communities there are health benefits to consuming healthy animal products. However, the goal of public health should be a balanced diet across all countries, with a target of no more than 300 grams of red meat per person per week.

  • Tailor practices to local culture.

    Close to one billion of the world’s poorest people rely on livestock for their livelihood. Traditional animal husbandry supplies more than just food. Keeping animals provides wealth, status and even dowry payments. However, the benefits of keeping animals are disrupted when conventional grazing and mixed-farming practices are replaced with industrial systems that prioritise short-term production. Policies to encourage high welfare, efficient management should consider cultural as well as natural factors.

  • Track costs and benefits.

    Despite ruminant livestock’s poor image as major greenhouse gas emitters, sustainably managed grazing can increase biodiversity, maintain ecosystem services and improve carbon capture by plants and soil. A cow produces up to 70 kg of manure per day, providing enough fertilizer in a year for one hectare of wheat, equivalent to 128 kg of synthetic nitrogen that might otherwise come from fossil fuels.

  • Study best practice.

    A global network of research farms — known as farm platforms — can evaluate the economic and environmental benefits of these and other farming practices, act as examples for local farmers to follow and provide valuable information for policymakers.

Professor Mark Eisler, Chair in Global Farm Animal Health in the School of Veterinary Sciences and Cabot Institute at the University of Bristol, said: “The quest for ‘intensification’ in livestock farming has thundered ahead with little regard for sustainability and overall efficiency, the net amount of food produced in relation to inputs such as land and water.

“With animal protein set to remain part of the food supply, we must pursue sustainable intensification and figure out how to keep livestock in ways that work best for individuals, communities and the planet.”

Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Bristol. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

Agriculture and Food News — ScienceDaily

Livestock can produce food that is better for people, planet

With one in seven humans undernourished, and with the challenges of population growth and climate change, the need for efficient food production has never been greater. Eight strategies to cut the environmental and economic costs of keeping livestock, such as cows, goats and sheep, while boosting the quantity and quality of the food produced have been outlined by an international team of scientists.

The strategies to make ruminant — cud-chewing — livestock a more sustainable part of the food supply, led by academics at the University of Bristol’s School of Veterinary Sciences, are outlined in a Comment piece in Nature this week.

The eight strategies include:

  • Feed animals less human food.

    Livestock consume an estimated one-third or more of the world’s cereal grain, which some advocate would be better used to feed people directly. Some of this could indeed be avoided by capitalising on ruminants’ ability to digest food that humans cannot eat, such as hay, silage and high-fibre crop residues.

  • Raise regionally appropriate animals.

    Working to boost yields from local breeds makes more sense in the long term than importing poorly adapted breeds that are successful elsewhere. European and North American Holstein dairy cows can produce 30 litres of milk a day. Thousands of these animals have been exported to Asia and Africa in an attempt to alleviate malnutrition. But exposed to hot climates, tropical diseases and sub-optimal housing, the cows produce much less milk, and the costs of feed and husbandry far exceed those of native breeds. Farmers, therefore, should be encouraged to keep and improve livestock adapted to local conditions.

  • Keep animals healthy.

    Human and livestock disease are generally treated as separate problems, but sick animals can make people sick. In low- and middle-income nations, 13 livestock-related zoonoses (diseases transferable between animals and humans) cause 2.4 billion cases of human illness and 2.2 million deaths each year. Animal management should include measures to control transmissible diseases, by improving hygiene, quarantining new arrivals on farms and establishing co-ordinated, sustained surveillance for diseases that cross the boundaries of species or countries.

  • Adopt smart supplements.

    Supplements can boost the productivity of ruminant animals by encouraging microbes in the rumen to grow quickly and provide the animals with better nutrition. Also, with some supplements, animals can produce more milk and meat for proportionally less greenhouse gas.

  • Eat quality not quantity.

    Raising animals for milk and meat is often considered at odds with the challenge of feeding a growing human population, but for undernourished communities there are health benefits to consuming healthy animal products. However, the goal of public health should be a balanced diet across all countries, with a target of no more than 300 grams of red meat per person per week.

  • Tailor practices to local culture.

    Close to one billion of the world’s poorest people rely on livestock for their livelihood. Traditional animal husbandry supplies more than just food. Keeping animals provides wealth, status and even dowry payments. However, the benefits of keeping animals are disrupted when conventional grazing and mixed-farming practices are replaced with industrial systems that prioritise short-term production. Policies to encourage high welfare, efficient management should consider cultural as well as natural factors.

  • Track costs and benefits.

    Despite ruminant livestock’s poor image as major greenhouse gas emitters, sustainably managed grazing can increase biodiversity, maintain ecosystem services and improve carbon capture by plants and soil. A cow produces up to 70 kg of manure per day, providing enough fertilizer in a year for one hectare of wheat, equivalent to 128 kg of synthetic nitrogen that might otherwise come from fossil fuels.

  • Study best practice.

    A global network of research farms — known as farm platforms — can evaluate the economic and environmental benefits of these and other farming practices, act as examples for local farmers to follow and provide valuable information for policymakers.

Professor Mark Eisler, Chair in Global Farm Animal Health in the School of Veterinary Sciences and Cabot Institute at the University of Bristol, said: “The quest for ‘intensification’ in livestock farming has thundered ahead with little regard for sustainability and overall efficiency, the net amount of food produced in relation to inputs such as land and water.

“With animal protein set to remain part of the food supply, we must pursue sustainable intensification and figure out how to keep livestock in ways that work best for individuals, communities and the planet.”

Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Bristol. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

Agriculture and Food News — ScienceDaily

Livestock found ganging up on pandas at the bamboo buffet

Pandas, it turns out, aren’t celebrating the Year of the Horse.

Livestock, particularly horses, have been identified as a significant threat to panda survival. The reason: They’re beating the pandas to the bamboo buffet. A paper by Michigan State University panda habitat experts published in this week’s Journal for Nature Conservation explores an oft-hidden yet significant conflict in conservation.

“Across the world, people are struggling to survive in the same areas as endangered animals, and often trouble surfaces in areas we aren’t anticipating,” said Jianguo “Jack” Liu, Rachel Carson Chair in Sustainability at Michigan State University (MSU). “Creating and maintaining successful conservation policy means constantly looking for breakdowns in the system. In this case, something as innocuous as a horse can be a big problem.”

China invests billions to protect giant panda habitat and preserve the 1,600 remaining endangered wildlife icons living there. For years, timber harvesting has been the panda’s biggest threat. Pandas have specific habitat needs — they eat only bamboo and stay in areas with gentle slopes that are far from humans. Conservation programs that limit timber harvesting have chalked up wins in preserving such habitat.

Vanessa Hull, a doctoral student in MSU’s Center for Systems Integration and Sustainability (CSIS), has been living off and on for seven years in the Wolong Nature Reserve, most recently tracking pandas she’s equipped with GPS collars. She has been working to better understand how these elusive and isolated animals move about and use natural resources.

Over the years, she started noticing it wasn’t just pandas chowing on bamboo.

“It didn’t take particular panda expertise to know that something was amiss when we’d come upon horse-affected bamboo patches. They were in the middle of nowhere and it looked like someone had been in there with a lawn mower,” Hull said.

Alarmed by the growing devastation, she learned that some of Wolong’s farmers, who traditionally hadn’t kept horses, had been talking to friends outside of the reserve who had been cashing in by raising them. A horse there, Hull said, is kind of a bank account. Horses were barred from designated grazing areas because they competed with cattle, so farmers would let them graze unattended in the forests. When funds were needed, they would track the animals down and sell them.

It was an idea whose popularity skyrocketed. In 1998, only 25 horses lived in Wolong. By 2008, 350 horses lived there in 20 to 30 herds.

To understand the scope of the problem, Hull and her colleagues put the same type of GPS collars they were using to track pandas on one horse in each of the four herds they studied. Then over a year they compared their activity with that of three collared adult pandas in some of the same areas and combined it with habitat data.

They discovered that horses are indeed big on bamboo — and also are drawn to the same sunny, gently sloped spots as pandas. Pandas and horses eat about the same amount of bamboo, but a herd of more than 20 horses made for a feeding frenzy, decimating areas the reserve was established to protect.

Jack Liu (left) and Jindong Zhang talk to a farmer in the Wolong Nature Reserve about the impact livestock can have on panda habitat.

This horse problem has been resolved. The researchers presented their findings to Wolong’s managers, who have since banned horses from the reserve. But Hull and Liu note that this work has shed light on how competitive livestock can be in sensitive habitat — an issue that is repeated across the globe.

“Livestock affect most of the world’s biodiversity hotspots,” Liu said. “They make up 20 percent of all of Earth’s land mammals and therefore monopolize key resources needed to maintain Earth’s fragile ecosystems.”

Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Michigan State University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

Agriculture and Food News — ScienceDaily

Buying livestock products: What’s on the consumer’s mind?

A look around the local grocery store might show images of consumers reading meat labels or checking the expiration date on a gallon of milk. Each consumer has a set of values when making food purchases, and the level of importance placed on each value by consumers allow for food producers and distributors to better meet the needs of their end user.

A recent nationwide online survey of U.S. consumers by Kansas State University found that freshness and safety were the most important values consumers placed on buying popular livestock products — milk, ground beef, beef steak and chicken breast. The findings for livestock-specific products were consistent with prior research examining consumers’ general food values.

Ted Schroeder, professor and livestock economist for K-State Research and Extension, worked with other faculty and graduate students in the Department of Agricultural Economics on this research. Schroeder said as consumers make decisions to purchase food products, they might think about taste, underlying production practices, concerns they have about production, safeness, freshness, quality and price, to name a few.

“It’s about a host of things that might go through consumers’ minds as they purchase a product,” he said. “As you compile those into a list, how do they rank? And, do they rank the same for different products?”

Details of the study

The prior research by Lusk and Briggeman in 2009 found that safety, nutrition, taste, price and natural were the top five values consumers desired out of the 11 total values assessed for general food products. Schroeder and his graduate students wanted to see if similar results could be found when consumers considered buying specific livestock products.

“We wanted some diversity among those (livestock) products,” said Garrett Lister, a K-State graduate student who worked on the study. “We also wanted them to be specific, which is why we kept them in the livestock sector.”

The popular products they chose to examine included milk, ground beef, beef steak and chicken breast. The 11 food values they chose to examine included freshness, health, hormone-free/antibiotic-free, animal welfare, taste, price, safety, convenience, nutrition, origin and environmental impact. These are similar to the general food product study, aside from a few modifications that apply to livestock products. Adding freshness was one of those modifications.

“There’s more issues with spoilage in some of these livestock products than food in general,” Lister said.

A total of 1,950 people responded to the livestock products survey, which was a big jump from the 176 respondents included in the prior general food product survey. This was mainly due to the online nature of the livestock products survey versus the mailed method of the general food products survey, said Marcus Brix, another K-State graduate student who worked on the study.

Safety was the most important value in the general food products study, and it was either first or second most important for milk, ground beef, beef steak and chicken breast. Freshness was the other top value for livestock products. In contrast, the values of environmental impact, animal welfare, origin and convenience were less important for the livestock products, and this was also comparable to the prior research.

Price fell in the middle of the list, Lister said. This was because some consumers valued price as one of their key components in making a decision on what foods to buy, while others felt it was less important.

Brix said economists often presume that price is the most important factor in choice, because price is an important driver of purchase behavior. Researchers tend to assume food is going to be safe when purchased at a retail outlet. However, consumers in general don’t necessarily have that presumed trust in food safety.

“A majority of consumers still question some things about their food,” Brix said. “If they think that one product is more safe than another at a different price point, they are going to be less responsive to the price and more responsive to the product freshness or safety of said product.”

Needs in the industry

Consumers want products that deliver a high-quality eating experience, Schroeder said, and this study, as well as prior research, reflects that.

“Freshness, nutritional components and health attributes are desirable, and consumers absolutely demand a product that is safe,” he said. “These are messages we’ve been saying for a long time, and they’ve shown up remarkably strong across all four of these particular products.”

The social values, including animal welfare, environmental impact and origin, for example, aren’t irrelevant, Schroeder said. Some segments of society hold those as more important than others, but overall they aren’t the major drivers that lead the average consumer to purchase a particular product.

Understanding some of these consumer food value preferences helps the food industry know where to focus its marketing and production energy to ensure that high-quality eating experience.

Agriculture and Food News — ScienceDaily

Efforts to curb climate change require greater emphasis on livestock

Dec. 20, 2013 — While climate change negotiators struggle to agree on ways to reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, they have paid inadequate attention to other greenhouse gases associated with livestock, according to an analysis by an international research team.

A reduction in non-CO2 greenhouse gases will be required to abate climate change, the researchers said. Cutting releases of methane and nitrous oxide, two gases that pound-for-pound trap more heat than does CO2, should be considered alongside the challenge of reducing fossil fuel use.

The researchers’ analysis, “Ruminants, Climate Change, and Climate Policy,” is being published today as an opinion commentary in Nature Climate Change, a professional journal.

William Ripple, a professor in the College of Forestry at Oregon State University, and co-authors from Scotland, Austria, Australia and the United States, reached their conclusions on the basis of a synthesis of scientific knowledge on greenhouse gases, climate change and food and environmental issues. They drew from a variety of sources including the Food and Agricultural Organization, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and recent peer-reviewed publications.

“Because the Earth’s climate may be near a tipping point to major climate change, multiple approaches are needed for mitigation,” said Ripple. “We clearly need to reduce the burning of fossil fuels to cut CO2 emissions. But that addresses only part of the problem. We also need to reduce non-CO2 greenhouse gases to lessen the likelihood of us crossing this climatic threshold.”

Methane is the second most abundant greenhouse gas, and a recent report estimated that in the United States methane releases from all sources could be much higher than previously thought. Among the largest human-related sources of methane are ruminant animals (cattle, sheep, goats, and buffalo) and fossil fuel extraction and combustion.

One of the most effective ways to cut methane, the researchers wrote, is to reduce global populations of ruminant livestock, especially cattle. Ruminants are estimated to comprise the largest single human-related source of methane. By reflecting the latest estimates of greenhouse gas emissions on the basis of a life-cycle or a “farm to fork” analysis, the researchers observed that greenhouse gas emissions from cattle and sheep production are 19 to 48 times higher (on the basis of pounds of food produced) than they are from producing protein-rich plant foods such as beans, grains, or soy products.

Unlike non-ruminant animals such as pigs and poultry, ruminants produce copious amounts of methane in their digestive systems. Although CO2 is the most abundant greenhouse gas, the international community could achieve a more rapid reduction in the causes of global warming by lowering methane emissions through a reduction in the number of ruminants, the authors said, than by cutting CO2 alone.

The authors also observed that, on a global basis, ruminant livestock production is having a growing impact on the environment:

  • Globally, the number of ruminant livestock has increased by 50 percent in the last 50 years, and there are now about 3.6 billion ruminant livestock on the planet.
  • About a quarter of the Earth’s land area is dedicated to grazing, mostly for cattle, sheep and goats.
  • A third of all arable land is used to grow feed crops for livestock.

In addition to reducing direct methane emissions from ruminants, cutting ruminant numbers would deliver a significant reduction in the greenhouse gas emissions associated with the production of feed crops for livestock, they added.

“Reducing demand for ruminant products could help to achieve substantial greenhouse gas reductions in the near-term,” said co-author Helmut Haberl of the Institute of Social Ecology in Austria, “but implementation of demand changes represent a considerable political challenge.”

Among agricultural approaches to climate change, reducing demand for meat from ruminants offers greater greenhouse gas reduction potential than do other steps such as increasing livestock feeding efficiency or crop yields per acre. Nevertheless, they wrote, policies to achieve both types of reductions “have the best chance of providing rapid and lasting climate benefits.”

Such steps could have other benefits as well, said co-author Pete Smith of the University of Aberdeen in Scotland. “Cutting the number of ruminant livestock could have additional benefits for food security, human health and environmental conservation involving water quality, wildlife habitat and biodiversity,” he explained. 

Agricultural researchers are also studying methane reduction through improved animal genetics and methods to inhibit production of the gas during digestion.

International climate negotiations such as the UNFCCC have not given “adequate attention” to greenhouse gas reductions from ruminants, they added. The Kyoto Protocol, for example, does not target ruminant emissions from developing countries, which are among the fastest-growing ruminant producers.

ScienceDaily: Agriculture and Food News

FSIS Issues Guidance for a Systematic Approach to Humane Livestock Handling

The U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) issued compliance guidelines for a systematic approach to humane handling of livestock on Wednesday.

A systematic approach is a comprehensive method of evaluating how livestock enter and move through an establishment and focuses on treating livestock so as to minimize excitement, discomfort, and accidental injury.

While it’s not a regulatory requirement, FSIS believes that it is the best way to comply with Humane Methods of Slaughter Act, the Federal Meat Inspection Act, and federal regulations on humane handling of livestock.

This new guidance was developed to address  humane handling incidents noted in a May 2013 report by the USDA Office of Inspector General (OIG). The audit found that FSIS enforcement policies don’t keep pig slaughter plants from repeatedly violating the Federal Meat Inspection Act. In addition, the report cited 10 instances of “egregious violations” of  humane handling regulations where inspectors did not issue suspensions.

“We have taken significant measures over the last few years to strengthen our ability to enforce humane handling laws at livestock slaughter facilities nationwide,” said FSIS Administrator Al Almanza in a statement Wednesday. “The guidance is one example of our commitment to the humane treatment of animals. We continue to implement improvements so that we have the best system possible.”

FSIS reports that, as of this year, half of slaughter facilities have adopted a systematic approach to humane handling, a goal laid out in the agency’s 2011-2016 strategic plan.

Food Safety News

Sustainable livestock production is possible

Sep. 25, 2013 — Consumers are increasingly demanding higher standards for how their meat is sourced, with animal welfare and the impact on the environment factoring in many purchases. Unfortunately, many widely-used livestock production methods are currently unsustainable. However, new research out today from the University of Cambridge has identified what may be the future of sustainable livestock production: silvopastoral systems which include shrubs and trees with edible leaves or fruits as well as herbage.

Professor Donald Broom, from the University of Cambridge, who led the research said: “Consumers are now demanding more sustainable and ethically sourced food, including production without negative impacts on animal welfare, the environment and the livelihood of poor producers. Silvopastoral systems address all of these concerns with the added benefit of increased production in the long term.”

Current cattle production mostly occurs on cleared pastures with only herbaceous plants, such as grasses, grown as food for the cows. The effects on the local environment include the removal of trees and shrubs as well as the increased use of herbicides, all of which result in a dramatic decrease in biodiversity. Additionally, there is also contamination of soil and waterways by agricultural chemicals as well as carbon costs because of vehicles and artificial fertiliser necessary to maintain the pasture.

The researchers advocate that using a diverse group of edible plants such as that in a silvopastural landscape promotes healthy soil with better water retention (and less runoff), encourages predators of harmful animals, minimizes greenhouse gas emissions, improves job satisfaction for farm workers, reduces injury and stress in animals, improves welfare and encourages biodiversity using native shrubs and trees.

Additionally, shrubs and trees with edible leaves and shoots, along with pasture plants, produce more food for animals per unit area of land than pasture plants alone. Trees and shrubs have the added benefit of providing shade from hot sun and shelter from rain. It also reduces stress by enabling the animals to hide from perceived danger.

“The planting as forage plants of both shrubs and trees whose leaves and small branches can be consumed by farmed animals can transform the prospects of obtaining sustainable animal production,” said Professor Broom. “Such planting of ‘fodder trees’ has already been successful in several countries, including the plant Chamaecytisus palmensis which is now widely used for cattle feed in Australia.”

Another success has been in Colombia where a mixed planting of the shrub Leucaena with a common pasture grass resulted in a 27% increase in dry matter for food and 64% increase of protein production.

When ruminants, such as cows, goats and sheep, are consuming the plants from a silvopastoral system, researchers have seen an increase in growth and milk production. Milk production in the tropical silvopastoral system mentioned above was 4.13 kg per cow when compared with 3.5 kg per day on pasture-only systems. As the numbers of animals per hectare was much greater, production of good quality milk per hectare was four to five times greater on the silvopastoral system.

One of the additional benefits of using the silvopastoral system is that it increases biodiversity. Biodiversity is declining across the globe, and the main culprit is farming — 33% of the total land surface of the world is used for livestock production. If farmers were to switch to sustainable livestock production methods, such as the silvopastoral system, the result would be much greater biodiversity with no increase in land use.

Professor Broom added: “It is clear that silvopastoral systems increase biodiversity, improve animal welfare and provide good working conditions while enabling a profitable farming business. The next step is to get farmers to adopt this proven, sustainable model.”

The paper ‘Sustainable, efficient livestock production with high biodiversity and good welfare for animals’ will be published in the 25 September edition of Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

ScienceDaily: Agriculture and Food News

‘Grassroots action’ in livestock feeding to help curb global climate change

Sep. 13, 2013 — In a series of papers to be presented next week, scientists offer new evidence that a potent chemical mechanism operating in the roots of a tropical grass used for livestock feed has enormous potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Referred to as “biological nitrification inhibition” or BNI, the mechanism markedly reduces the conversion of nitrogen applied to soil as fertilizer into nitrous oxide, according to papers prepared for the 22nd International Grasslands Congress. Nitrous oxide is the most powerful and aggressive greenhouse gas, with a global warming potential 300 times that of carbon dioxide.

“Nitrous oxide makes up about 38 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions in agriculture, which accounts for almost a third of total emissions worldwide,” said Michael Peters, who leads research on forages at the Colombia-based International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), a member of the CGIAR Consortium. “BNI offers what could be agriculture’s best bet for keeping global climate change within manageable limits.”

Scientists at CIAT and the Japan International Research Center for Agricultural Sciences (JIRCAS) have researched BNI collaboratively for the last 15 years.

“This approach offers tremendous possibilities to reduce nitrous oxide emissions and the leaching of polluting nitrates into water supplies, while also raising crop yields through more efficient use of nitrogen fertilizer,” said G.V. Subbarao, a senior scientist at JIRCAS.

As a result of recent advances, scientists have developed the means to exploit the BNI phenomenon on a large scale:

  • CIAT researchers have found ways to increase BNI through plant breeding in different species of Brachiaria grasses. The new techniques include methods for rapidly quantifying BNI in Brachiaria together with molecular markers, which reduce the time needed for field testing.
  • Center scientists have also just gathered evidence that a maize crop grown after Brachiaria humidicola pastures gave acceptable yields with only half the amount of nitrogen fertilizer normally used, because more nitrogen was retained in the soil, thus reducing nitrous oxide emissions and nitrate leaching. The researchers determined that BNI had boosted nitrogen-use efficiency by a factor of 3.8.
  • In addition, scientists have developed hybrids of Brachiaria humidicola and delivered these, with support from the German government, to farmers in Colombia and Nicaragua for productivity and quality testing. Previous grass hybrids have increased milk and meat production by several orders of magnitude, compared to native savanna grasses, and by at least 30 percent, compared to commercial grass cultivars. Based on evaluation of the new hybrids and with the aid of simulation models, researchers are studying where else the hybrids can be introduced and on how large a scale.

“Livestock production provides livelihoods for a billion people, but it also contributes about half of agriculture’s greenhouse gas emissions,” Peters explained. “BNI is a rare triple-win technology that’s good for rural livelihoods as well as the global environment and climate. It defies the widespread notion that livestock are necessarily in the minus column of any food security and environmental calculation.”

“The problem is that today’s crop and livestock systems are very ‘leaky,’” said Subbarao. “About 70 percent of the 150 million tons of nitrogen fertilizer applied globally is lost through nitrate leaching and nitrous oxide emissions; the lost fertilizer has an annual estimated value of US$ 90 billion.”

“BNI has huge possibilities for reducing nitrogen leakage,” said CIAT scientist Idupulapati Rao. “Grassland pastures are the single biggest use of agricultural land — covering 3.2 billion hectares out of a global total of 4.9 billion. In Brazil alone, 11 million hectares of grassland have been converted to maize and soybean production, and another 35-40 million could be shifted to crop production in the near future. Instead of more monocropping, developing countries need to integrate Brachiaria grasses into mixed crop-livestock systems on a massive scale to make them more sustainable.”

Originally from sub-Saharan Africa, Brachiaria grasses found their way to South America centuries ago — possibly as bedding on slave ships. Improved varieties of the grass are widely grown on pasturelands in Brazil, Colombia, and other countries, and they have recently been taken back to Africa to help ease severe shortages of livestock feed.

In a major breakthrough, JIRCAS scientists discovered several years ago the chemical substance responsible for BNI and developed a reliable method for detecting the nitrification inhibitor coming from plant roots. Scientists at CIAT then validated the BNI concept in the field, demonstrating that Brachiaria grass suppresses nitrification and nitrous oxide emissions, compared with soybean, which lacks this ability.

Other research has shown that deep-rooted, productive Brachiaria grasses capture large amounts of atmospheric carbon — on a scale similar to that of tropical forests — a further plus for climate change mitigation.

“Our work on BNI started with a field observation made by one of our scientists in the 1980s — back then it was nothing more than a dream,” said Peters. “But now it’s a dream with an action plan and solid scientific achievements behind it.”

BNI research forms part of a larger initiative referred to as LivestockPlus, which proposes to deliver major benefits for the poor and the environment through innovative research on tropical forage grasses and legumes.

The LivestockPlus initiative takes place within the global framework of the CGIAR Research Program on Livestock and Fish, led by the Kenya-based International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI). The program aims to increase the availability and affordability of meat, milk and fish for poor consumers and raise the incomes of smallholders producing these commodities.

ScienceDaily: Agriculture and Food News

Meat & Livestock Industries Say COOL Rules Go Too Far

“Consumer curiosity” is not enough of a reason to expand the Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) law to include a requirement for companies to detail where various production steps occurred. And since food safety, public health benefits or any other substantial government interest is involved, the COOL regulations will violate the constitutional protection from compelled speech.

Those are the crux of the arguments that eight of North America’s top meat and livestock organizations are making in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. They are asking the court to block the mandatory COOL law regulations that were finalized by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in May.

Meat and livestock associations in both the U.S. and Canada are objecting to including production steps on labels, specifically where the animal was “born, raised, and slaughtered.” Such information requirements, they say, will limit or eliminate the industry’s widespread practice of commingling products, instead requiring the segregation of livestock and products throughout the supply chain.

As a result, they say, COOL as it’s being implemented puts companies, plants and producers at risk of going out of business. Processing facilities on the U.S.-Canadian border would be at a disadvantage if livestock no longer moved freely from one country to another.

The American Association of Meat Processors, American Meat Institute (AMI), Canadian Cattlemen’s Association, Canadian Pork Council, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, National Pork Producers Council, North American Meat Association, and Southwest Meat Association filed the court action.

“Sorting and tracking livestock and labeling meat by the various ‘routes’ that livestock may take on the way to market is needlessly complex with no measurable benefits,” said Mark Dopp, AMI general counsel and senior vice president of regulatory affairs. “Shoes, for example, may say ‘Made in the USA.’ They do not say, ‘Leather from cattle born in Canada, harvested in the USA, tanned in South Korea and processed in the USA,’ yet that is the sort of labeling that we are now being forced to apply.”

“Congress mandated country of origin labeling for meat and poultry—not lifetime itinerary labeling,” Dopp added. He said segregating and tracking animals according to the production steps and including the information on labels is a “bureaucrat’s paperwork fantasy,” from which everyone else loses.

In addition to its constitutional arguments, the meat and livestock groups say COOL violates the Administrative Procedures Act by picking winners and losers in the market by fundamentally altering the meat industry with no identifiable benefit.

And the federal lawsuit argues that COOL rules violate the Agricultural Marketing Act by exceeding the language contained in the COOL statute. The meat and livestock groups say Congress specifically rejected “overly detailed disclosures.”

The meat and livestock organizations are asking the court to declare the COOL invalid under the First Amendment, the Agricultural Marketing Act, the 2008 Farm Bill and the Administrative Procedures Act.

They are also seeking to block enforcement, vacate the rule, and remand the issue back to the Agricultural Marketing Service. They are also asking for reimbursement of their attorneys’ fees and costs along with any other relief the court “deems just and proper.”

Mandatory country of origin labeling was first included in the 2002 Farm Bill. The following year, USDA first proposed the rule requiring the various production steps to be listed on the label. The 2008 Farm Bill included language to make this proposal “less burdensome,” according to the meat and livestock groups.

After the rule took effect, Canada and Mexico said it violated trade agreements and filed a challenge to USDA’s COOL rules with the World Trade Organization. In 2011, WTO ruled in their favor, and an appeals body upheld that finding in 2012.

The WTO required the United States to be in compliance by May 23, 2013. The meat and livestock organizations say the rule that USDA put into effect in May 2013 is “very similar” to the original 2003 rule.

Food Safety News