The Hindu , 08 February 2006

Industrial livestock, a threat to eco systems: FAO

NEW DELHI : Industrial livestock production causes environmental damage, especially when meat and dairy factories are crowded around cities or are close to water resources, the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) has warned.

In a report, `Livestock Policy Brief Pollution from Industrialised Livestock Production', the United Nations agency has urged governments to provide incentives for more environment friendly production practices.

Between 1980 and 2004, meat production in the developing countries tripled to 150 million tonnes. Although people in developed countries consume three or four times as much meat per person, the developing countries now produce and consume well over half of the world's meat.

The rapid growth of livestock production in the developing world has been concentrated in a few large countries including Brazil, Mexico, China and the countries around the South China Sea (Thailand, Vietnam and the Philippines). Meat production in the developing countries is expected to increase by about 110 million tonnes by 2030.

In many developing countries, large industrial operations with thousands of animals have displaced production on small farms, which raise both animals and crops and recycle nutrients as fodder and fertilizer. The thrust has shifted from cattle to industrial pig and poultry production on the outskirts of major cities. In Asia, large-scale industrial production accounts for roughly 80 percent of the total increase in livestock products since 1990.

In industrial systems, large quantities of animal wastes accumulate far from cropland where they could be safely recycled. A dense concentration of industrial livestock production creates a large quantity of manure. Although much lower on a national scale, the concentration of pig and poultry production in parts of China and Brazil is approaching and surpassing the levels in Europe and North America, says the FAO.

However, pig and poultry production concentrated in the coastal areas of China, Thailand and Vietnam is emerging as a major source of nutrient pollution of the South China Sea. Pig production accounts for an estimated 42 per cent of nitrogen and 90 per cent of phosphorus flows into the sea. Along much of the densely populated coast, pig density exceeds 100 animals per sqkm and agricultural land is overloaded with a huge nutrient surplus. The runoff severely degrades seawater and sediment quality in one of the world's most biologically diverse marine areas, threatening mangroves, coral reefs and seagrass.

Major forms of pollution associated with manure management in intensive livestock production include nitrates and pathogens leaching into groundwater. This often threatens drinking water supply. Almost half the excess phosphorus supply comes from livestock.

The FAO says government policies such as zoning regulations and taxes can discourage large concentrations of intensive production close to cities. In Thailand, for instance, the high concentration of poultry production on the outskirts of Bangkok was significantly reduced in less than a decade. For, poultry farmers within a 10-km radius of Bangkok had to pay high taxes. Chicken farmers outside that zone enjoyed a tax-free status.