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Animal protein production increases global food security

By Chris McCullough for Tri-State Livestock News

LIVESTOCK farmers across the world are under pressure to produce meat more sustainably by increasing their environmental protections, lowering methane production and reducing carbon footprints.

However, the truth of the matter is that animal based proteins are essential to ensure global consumers have food security, particularly so when the production of other food is being restricted by the war in Ukraine.

Rallying this message home at the Alltech ONE conference in Kentucky was Vaughn Holder, ruminant research director at Alltech.



Holder emphasized the role that animal proteins play in terms of global food security and why these farming methods are essential.

During his talk Holder cited an example of how 205 different countries and territories in the world source their protein based on the various consumer requirements.



Most countries rely on animal based protein but do have a rising percentage derived from plant based protein, which, he said, does present some challenges.

Holder said: “Plant and animal source proteins have different digestibility’s. Plant proteins are often quite difficult for us to digest as people.

“And they also often have pretty poor amino acid requirements, which is why we do so many things to these plant proteins when we feed them to animals, to improve their availability.”

Looking at research, Holder said over half of the world, geographically, is deficient on average in protein requirements.

He said: “This is a pretty eye-opening statistic, particularly given we’re always talking about 2050. What are we going to do in 2050 when we have nine billion people? We don’t have enough food now, and that’s simply the bottom line.

“We have to keep that in mind when we talk about all of these other conversations around animal agriculture at the moment. We need to bear in mind we are not currently food secure.”

Ruminant agriculture

Holder went on to discuss the world in terms of how it can provide food recognising firstly that most of the world’s surface is ocean, which should not be overfished. Then he focused on rangeland and how it cannot be used as cultivation land making it only suitable for ruminants to graze on and produce protein.

He said: “Folks that are talking about eliminating ruminant agriculture, particularly ruminant agriculture because of its methane effects, need to account for the fact that you are taking 40 percent of the earth’s surface away that we currently use for protein production in a world where we don’t have enough food.

“People will tell you that beef production is highly inefficient compared to other livestock. Figures show it takes 13.8 pounds of feed per pound of product that you actually get at the end of the day.

“And it looks terrible compared to the other protein sources, obviously. But they don’t account for what you’re feeding these animals, and they also don’t account for what’s coming out the other end.

“Net protein is essentially the amount of protein produced per unit of protein that these animals eat. It’s not surprising to see that both beef and dairy cows are able to produce more protein than they eat, and that is literally their role,” he said.

His point was that it is only ruminants that require less protein than the protein that they make. Ruminants have the ability to turn low-quality protein sources, cellulose sources and even non-protein sources into high quality protein.

“Things like urea, things like non-protein nitrogen can be converted into the most nutrient-dense product in the world by cattle,” said Holder. “No other system that we have can do that’s important when talking about food security.”

Inedible to humans

Holder also mentioned the argument that ruminants eat food that humans should be eating therefore ruminants should be taken out of the equation.

Dr. Vaughn Holder

He added: “86 percent of global livestock feed is considered inedible by humans. And of that, about 78 percent, including grass and leaves, crop residues, fodder crops and by-products here, are only utilizable by ruminants.

“So you’re talking about a huge quantity of nutrients that are entering our food system that would not be there if it wasn’t for ruminant livestock. And proposing cutting that off is very irresponsible.”

Other arguments thrown at beef and dairy farmers suggest that greenhouses gases in the planet would be lower if there were no ruminants around.

Holder said: “Now, obviously, it is not that simple. The problem with that concept is that we are in a global marketplace. The food that we produce goes out into the global marketplace and affects where food production actually happens.

“For example, if you look at the United States, we’ve got about six percent of the world’s cattle. We produce 18 percent of the world’s beef.

“Obviously, the USA is extremely good at beef production, highly efficient beef production. If we stopped that production, the demand would not shift, the beef would be made somewhere else, and most likely the location that you shift it to is going to have a higher carbon footprint.

“You’re probably going to end up with less food with a higher carbon footprint if you shut off highly efficient production in places where it is extremely well done.”

Holder touched on another advantage of ruminants in that they consume by-products that humans cannot eat. While he admitted this does create some gases he said it actually saves gas production if those by-products were utilised by other means or indeed be sent to landfill.

 

 


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