As demand for beef soars, how can we find a sustainable solution to meet the global appetite?


By Ruaraidh Petre, Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef (GRSB)

via Beef Central/AgCarbon Central (Australia) - 20/09/2022


In this article, Ruaraidh Petre from the Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef explores the impact that improving herd efficiency in developing countries could have on sustainably serving a quickly growing global appetite for beef.


It is projected by Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations that demand for animal products will increase by 70 percent by 2050, and this increased demand is greater than for any other commodity group.


Consumption of meat in China has quadrupled since 1980, and is expected to double in Africa by 2050, driven by increasing incomes and urbanisation. Population growth adds further to demand. Throughout the developing world, milk consumption has doubled, meat consumption tripled and egg consumption increased by a factor of five since 1960.


A common assumption by commentators is that the rising demand for animal source foods in lower- and middle-income countries cannot be met sustainably because it inevitably requires an increasing herd/flock, and there is no land available for these additional animals.


As it happens, the size of herds and flocks is already increasing in lower- and middle-income countries to meet demand, and it is for this reason that it is portrayed as unsustainable.


Increasing herd in Africa and Asia


As two thirds of large ruminants are found in Africa and Asia, it is worth looking at those regions to see if there are alternative futures that could feed growing populations without exceeding the resources available.


One thing to bear in mind is that not all large ruminants are primarily kept for food production the number of oxen for animal traction in West Africa increased from 350,000 to 2 million between the 1970s and today.


Livestock also play a significant role in the household economy being readily traded when necessary; they are an increasingly important part of the agricultural sector of developing countries, and social and cultural factors are generally more important for livestock than for crops.


So, while Africa and Asia have two thirds of large ruminants, they produce less than one third of global milk and meat supply Africa is in fact a net importer of most livestock products.


Several factors contribute, but reproductive efficiency is generally low; cows in Southern Africa produce on average one calf every four years. Lower inputs in disease prevention and treatment combined with less effective grazing management (communal grazing in many countries) also contribute to low outputs.


The result of this being a very large supporting herd generating a small offtake impact in terms of resources per kg product is therefore high.


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