Areport by the Intern ational Panel for Sustainable Resource Management that calls for drastic cuts in animal agriculture shows little understanding of Canadian practices, Canadian farm groups say.
“How the world is fed and fuelled will in large part define development in the 21st century as one that is increasingly sustainable or a dead end for billions of people,” the panel report says. Dramatically reforming, re-thinking and redesigning agriculture could generate significant environmental, social and economic returns.
Current farming practices patterns “are draining freshwater supplies, triggering losses of economically-important ecosystems such as forests, intensifying disease and death rates and raising levels of pollution to unsustainable levels,” it asserted.
Peggy Strankman, environmental analyst with the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association, said initial news stories on the report overemphasized its anti-meat observations. “They suggested a simplistic approach to a complex problem.”
Animal agriculture is well suited to areas of the world where land isn’t suitable for crop production, she said. As well, Canadian livestock producers have emphasized adoption of sustainable farming practices.
Greg Northey, environment and science policy analyst with the Canadian Federation of Agriculture, said the report focuses on livestock production in developing countries where forests are being cut down for farm land. Nutrient loading especially nitrogen and phosphorus from manure and fertilizer can ruin water supplies.
“The habitat destruction focus is less relevant to the Canadian situation, if at all, as it is clearly referring to the land-use change occurring in developing countries,” he said.
“As of 2007, Canadian agriculture represented eight per cent of total emissions,” he added, noting Canada is considered a world leader in developing agricultural systems that mitigate carbon.
While emissions will never be eliminated, they can be managed through increased efficiencies in manure management, feeding regimes and animal genetics.”
Gary Stordy of the Canadian Pork Council, said he is concerned about the report suggesting people should adjust their diets away from animal products.
“Canada’s agriculture system is very different from the agriculture in some developing countries where massive land use changes could be taking place,” he said.
As well, animal densities are relatively low due to Canada’s wide geographic base. For example, in hog production, there is only one animal for every five hectares of arable farmland, he said.
Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary General and Executive Director of the UN Environment Program, said the world needs to move a low carbon, resource efficient Green Economy. Agriculture along with transportation have “a disproportionately high impact on people and the planet’s life support systems … especially the raising of livestock for meat and dairy products.
“Some tough choices are signalled in this report, but it may prove even more challenging for everyone if the current paths continue into the coming decades,” he added.
Northey said Canadian farmers have implemented nutrient management planning, reduced fertilizer uses, environmental farm planning, and best management practices, all of which are geared towards improving the environmental performance of agriculture.
“Compared to many countries, Canada is well positioned to address the issues raised in the report and has been for many years,” he said. “With the need for increased food production, Canadian agriculture can be an example to the world on how to increase production while maintaining environmental integrity.”