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Livestock Industry is Dominant User of Land and Deforestation in World

In one of his recent tweets, the CEO of MPOC, Tan Sri Datuk Dr. Yusof Basiron, said that it is disingeneous for ENGOs to attack oil palm farmers for using 0.3% of global agricultural land when cattle uses > 70% of it.

This stark frightening fact of the very large amount of land needed to raise livestock has been revealed in  a comprehensive study carried out by Livestock, Environment and Development (LEAD) Initiative and reported in FAO(2006): Livestock’s Long Shadow: Environmental Issues and Options.

The study found that the livestock sector is the single largest anthropogenic user of land. It accounts for 70% of all agricultural land use or 30% of land surface of the planet. About 3.9 billion hectares of land are used by the livestock industry; of which 3.4 billion hectares are used for grazing while another 471 million hectares of arable land are dedicated to produce animal feed. This area is almost 1,260 times the size of Belgium. It is no exaggeration, then, when the report says that livestock is the major driver of deforestation and leading player in reduction of biodiversity. In comparison, the area occupied by oil palm in the world, at 15.6 million hectares,  looks miniscule. The land area utilized for livestock production is  250 times more than that used to produce palm oil.

Other alarming facts about the livestock industry are :-

  • About 20% of the world’s pastures and rangelands have been degraded to some extent, due to overgrazing, compaction and erosion created by livestock action.
  • It is responsible for 18% of world’s global warming effect.  This is even higher than the emissions from transport.
  • It emits 37% of anthropogenic methane, mostly from enteric fermentation by ruminants. (Note: methane has a global warming potential (GWP) which is 23 times  greater than CO2.)
  • It also emits 65% of anthropogenic nitrous oxide (with 296 times GWP of CO2), mainly from manure.
  • It is responsible for almost 2/3 of the anthropogenic ammonia emissions, which result in acid rain and acidify the ecosystems.

It consumes at least 8% of global human water use, mainly for irrigation of feedcrops and is, probably, the largest sectoral source of water pollution.

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