Livestock in balance
Commentary by Mike McMorris, LRIC CEO, February 2022
Balance can refer to having elements in the correct proportions. Balance seems in short supply these days; look at the current pandemic. The world is failing pretty badly at balance with only 10% of the African population vaccinated, over 80% in Canada.
This matters because the risk is globally shared as unvaccinated people act as a key reservoir and mutation ground for the virus. Shared risk but not a shared response. Within Canada and Ontario, we are seeing vast differences in how people define COVID response balance, with some seeking full individual freedoms, others setting highest priority of the health care system, while still others put community first. In reality, the right balance changes over time. For example, priority on health care capacity logically rates higher during a wave of infections.
What about balance in the livestock world?
Here, too, it is easy to see imbalance. Just look at the many articles that claim (often falsely) the impact of livestock agriculture on greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Just GHG emissions, no other considerations. No one can question that livestock production contributes to GHG emissions. The sector has made progress, but to many who don’t seek balance, these statistics are met with skepticism because of the source. To some, balance means there is no livestock production, though that position seems to ignore the food deficit that would be created.
Livestock production produces GHG emissions, but it also produces food. Highly nutritious food. And in many cases, it does so by using resources that cannot be eaten by humans.
What would a balanced report card for livestock production look like? I suggest that factors to be scored should include (in random order):
- GHG emissions per unit of final product
- Sound animal care
- “Sustainability” though that would need to be defined or broken down further
- Impact on soil health
- Contribution to the community and economy
- Effective use of resources, including antimicrobial agents
- Environmental impact (water quality, biodiversity)
- One Health considerations (e.g. zoonoses)
- Proactively implementing risk management (e.g. biosecurity)
- Use of resources that have other direct benefit to humans
Who gets to create this report card? Who gets to do the marking? How would the weighting of individual scores change over time?
No easy answers, but a topic that the livestock industry must tackle together.