ISGP Podcast: Say Cheese!

How do you feel about GM technologies improving nutritional content and yield for both human and animal consumption?

Livestock make up an extremely important commodity around the world, serving as a source of labor, food, and wealth. It’s actually estimated that 1 billion people depend on livestock in some way, shape, or form for their livelihoods. Demand for livestock-related products – things like milk, cheese, eggs, and meat – is increasing at an extremely rapid rate. This is due to factors such as population growth, rising incomes, urbanization, changes in dietary preference.

However, we have an embarrassingly small amount of data on the amount of water needed to sustain livestock production, thus making it difficult to figure out how to achieve more efficient water use habits.

A lot of the crops and livestock are produced on small-scale systems that integrate animals and crops, so optimal water solutions for North America and Europe will definitely be different than those for, let’s say, Asia and Africa. One idea that was discussed was crop residues that can be grazed over by animals or harvested. By genetically modifying the crops used for human consumption, we can induce significant improvements in yield, nutrition, and digestibility…All of which gets passed down as better crop residues for the animals as well.

Despite this potential, crop residues are often overlooked largely because of the lack of communication between livestock and crop scientists. The debaters argued that better communication regarding research and growth of mixed-use crops for humans and animals is required to realize all of these goals. This could be especially beneficial in less-affluent countries.

Building livestock agriculture as a more sustainable part of the food chain is going to require technological advancements at the production end and behavioral changes from consumers. Many debaters agreed that we need to begin measuring actual yield based on region and production system, as opposed to just measuring everything off North American standards. This will help scientists understand realistic yield potential and improve yield gaps. Additionally, metrics such as water usage need to be measured in mixed conditions, as this is closer to the reality of farmers working in less-affluent countries where small-scale systems of crops and livestock tend to be closely integrated.

All of these ideas were part of a discussion of a policy position paper, “Improving Livestock Water Productivity,” at the 2013 ISGP conference Food Safety, Security, and Defense: Focus on Food and Water that was held in Lincoln, Nebraska. The paper was written by Dr. Iain Wright, who is a program leader at Animal Science for Sustainable Productivity, which is part of the International Livestock Research Institute in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

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