Livestock and the environment

People and animals have been tied together for thousands of years. There’s an “ancient contract” between the two, according to Dr. Henry Janzen, research scientist with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada. But there are strains in that ancient contract. Do we need to rethink this ancient contract in order to minimize our footprint on the environment? asks Dr. Janzen during a National Centre for Livestock and the Environment (NCLE) Seminar this morning at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg.

Dr. Janzen said we are living in a “full world.” This requires trade-offs. We have to consider the value of things. What is the value of an extra tonne of meat compared to the value of hearing a meadowlark sing?

And how do we engage society in this discussion? We need to listen to others. And we need to find better ways to tell our stories. We are disconnected from nature and we need to relink humanity to the land, according to Dr. Janzen.

Following Dr. Janzen’s presentation, three panelists – Owen McAuley, Allan Preston and Gwen Donohoe – shared their thoughts on the topic. McAuley said the public tends to blame the livestock, not the management practices of the livestock. I agree. If blame is to be placed anywhere it should fall on the shoulders of the people who care for the animals. Proper management practices can help minimize livestocks’ impact on the environment and water.  

According to Dr. Janzen, farmers will have to increase food production by 70 per cent by 2050 in order to meet the growing global demand for food. And this has to be done with various environmental constraints. Preston believes that we’re not going to have cheap food forever. He discussed sustainable food production and sustainable food supply, and said there will have to be compromises made to achieve both. Compromises made by both the farmer and the consumer. If people want their food produced in an environmentally sustainable way, they have to be willing to fork over some more cash for it.

Dr. Janzen also challenged the audience to think about what our successors livestock systems will look like. He feels future livestock systems will need to be productive, resilient, appealing and ethical. I feel this is key to the entire discussion. In his presentation, Dr. Janzen took us back in time through old black and white photographs of livestock and the environment. He also provided insightful quotations from research completed years ago on this subject. So we should consider what our children will say about our livestock systems 10, 20, 50 years from now? What kind of legacy do we want to leave behind when it comes to livestock and the environment?

What do you think? Post your comments or send me an email.


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