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Living in a World of Decreasing Resources & Increasing Regulation: How to Advance Animal Agriculture

May 21, 2012

The National Institute for Animal Agriculture is a membership‐driven organization that unites and advances animal agriculture. At a recent conference they addressed the topic “Living in a World of Decreasing Resources & Increasing Regulation: How to Advance Animal Agriculture.” Listed below are a few very interesting observations and comments.

 

Challenges and Opportunities for Animal Agriculture

  • Economists estimate that by the year 2050, global meat production must increase by 73% to meet the expected 43% boost to the world’s population. Three other basic factors driving global demand for animal protein are economic growth and income, the rising middle class of countries—particularly China and India—and urbanization. Broken down by species: global poultry production will need to increase by 125%, followed by sheep and goat meat, 78%; beef, 58%; and pork, 37%.
  • Achieving anticipated increased demand for animal protein by producing twice as many poultry, 80% more ruminants, 60% more cattle and 40% more pigs using the same level of natural resources is unrealistic. That said, small producers and integrated systems will both play significant roles in helping meet world demand for animal protein.

 

Technology

  • One economist maintains that 70% of the anticipated needed food supply will have to come from advancements in efficiency‐improving technology: practices, products and genetics.
    • Technology has been key to past production and efficiency in animal agriculture. For example, in the beef industry, technology has resulted in each pound of beef produced in the United States in 2007 requiring 14% less water and 34% less land than in 1977.
    • In 1940, one person in U.S. agriculture could only feed 19 people. By 1960, one farmer could feed 26 people. Today, a farmer feeds 155 people.
    • Advances in technology means fewer people are needed in agriculture, allowing individuals to pursue other professions.
    • If technology was frozen in the year 1955, it would require an additional 450 million acres—the total land mass of Texas, Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico and Oklahoma—to produce the beef being producing today.
    • In 1961, the United States population was close to 184 million people. In 2006, that number was greater than 300 million people. Relating those numbers back to 1960, if agriculture technology today was the same as 1960, the United States would either have to expand acres by 63% or decrease food consumption by 63%.
      • While new technology will require heavily investing in agricultural research and development, today’s federal government is lessening its financial support of agricultural research and development that addresses efficiency‐improving technology related to practices, products and genetics.
      • The private sector is to be applauded for stepping up to the plate and investing in research and development. But, the private sector frequently finds implementing and acquiring government approval to be difficult and lengthy due to an increasingly complex regulatory environment and process.

 

Regulatory Pressures

  • While humans have been domesticating livestock for around 10,000 years, only in the last 20 or so years has the onslaught of regulations changed the livestock producers’ world so dramatically. And, while no one can predict what the regulatory environment will look like in the next 20 years, experts contend that concerns about food safety, sustainability, environment and animal welfare will increase.
  • One factor driving today’s regulatory environment that impacts animal agriculture—covering the gamut from animal housing and sub‐therapeutic antimicrobial usage to environment and labor—is pressure applied by consumers.

 

The Negative Spiral:

  • Consumers turn to elected officials who, like them, are often also disconnected from animal agriculture;
  • Elected officials respond to the needs of their constituents and set up regulations designed around accountability and safety;
  • Implementation of regulations increase taxes for consumers who then have even higher expectations for accountability;
  • Producers push back because the cost of regulations makes their long‐term sustainability tenuous;
  • The negative spiral continues as constituents want more regulation and those in animal agriculture want less regulation so it can be sustainable.

 

While both consumers and those in food‐animal production want safe, affordable food produced by individuals who care about animal welfare, well‐being and the environment, this common ground is shrinking due to the negative spiral.

A study showed that regulations imposed by federal, state and local governments can also make domestic farmers and ranchers uncompetitive with competitors overseas and drive them out of business. Over‐regulation and under‐regulation of animal agriculture is not the answer, and animal agriculture does not expect zero regulatory oversight as regulations can strengthen the quality, safety and market position. That said, science‐based, cost‐effective regulations are a better solution.

 

A focus should also be put on food safety, with concrete evidence determining if certain regulations increase, decrease or not affect food safety. Scientific evidence—not emotion—should be the determining factor whether certain regulations are needed in regards to food safety (Source: Living in a World of Decreasing Resources & Increasing Regulation: How to Advance Animal Agriculture White Paper, NIAA).

 

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