Grass-fed livestock is key to sustainable future

The amount of meat people eat would be reduced, but crop production for human consumption would take up the slack, the study suggests.

Global livestock production would be more sustainable if farmers stopped feeding animals crops that humans also eat, according to a new study. It would, however, also reduce the amount of meat we eat.

Scientists from the Research Institute of Organic Agriculture envisioned a scenario where the production of livestock feeds using human food crops is reduced.

They modelled the most extreme situation as one where “animals are fed only from grassland and by-products from food production”, and found that people could still eat a protein-balanced diet while reducing environmental impacts through decreased use of “arable land occupation”, pesticides and water, as well as slowing soil erosion.

The study, which was also published by global science fellowship the Royal Society, says that by not feeding animals crops like corn, soy and wheat, humans would limit their meat and animal product consumption by about 53 percent. That would mostly affect pork, poultry and egg consumption.

The paper argues that reduced use of cropland for animal feed will also lead to more access to food for a growing global population; the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations says that one-third of the world’s limited arable land is now used for feed production.