The raising of livestock animals, such as cattle (for beef and leather) or sheep (for mutton and wool), is a factor contributing to land use patterns -- which in turn impacts ecosystems such as forests.
- Livestock directly use and impact land -- either intensively as in Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) or extensively in pasture lands -- and also indirectly impact demand for use of land when they are fed grains and other crops, by creating demand for the land used to grow such feed crops.
Livestock are also a factor in greenhouse gas emissions, both directly due to direct emissions (such as methane from the animals' digestive processes), as well as indirectly such as due to changes in land use (e.g. deforestation) resulting from the use of land for raising livestock.
Cattle are raised for meat (beef) and hides (leather).
- From Source to Sink: Reducing Commodity Agriculture's Impacts on Natural Lands - This summary of a larger recent National Wildlife Federation white paper provides an overview of contributions to land use change and climate change by commodity agricultural products such as soy, palm oil, biofuels, and cattle. It also offers a brief overview of supply and demand-side programs that may offer solutions.
- Slaughtering the Amazon - This June 2009 report by Greenpeace found that "The cattle sector in the Brazilian Amazon is the largest driver of deforestation in the world," and was "responsible for 14% of the world’s annual deforestation."
- Poultry - chickens, etc.
- 2-5 May 2011, St. Louis, Missouri, USA: International Biomass Conference and Expo. (Themes: bio-based products, livestock waste, energy crops, forest biomass, technology, waste)
- 4-6 May 2010, Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA: 2010 International BIOMASS Conference & Expo. (Themes: crop residues, energy crops, wood residues, livestock and poultry wastes, MSW)
- 26-27 August 2009, Sao Paulo, Brazil: International Workshop on Solutions to Deforestation and Greenhouse Gas Emissions Caused by Cattle Expansion - Hosted by the National Wildlife Federation in partnership with Amigos da Terra, Allianca da Terra,Imazon, Forest Footprint Disclosure and Greenpeace (Themes: forests, Brazil, deforestation, GHG emissions, REDD, cattle)
Some key organizations working on this issue include:
- International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) - a research organization that "conducts inter-disciplinary scientific studies on environmental, economic, technological, and social issues in the context of human dimensions of global change." In 2009, was involved in studying impacts of livestock on land use.
- International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) - ILRI works to "generate knowledge and technologies designed to reduce poverty, hunger, disease and environmental degradation in developing countries, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia."
- Could palm oil help save the Amazon?, 14 June 2011 by Mongabay.com: "According to analysis by Brazil's agricultural research agency Embrapa, more than 2 million square kilometers of the Brazilian Amazon is suitable for oil palm cultivation — an area four times the size of France."
- "Done right, oil palm could emerge as a key component in the effort to save the Amazon rainforest. Responsible production there could even force changes in other parts of the world."
- "Planted on the degraded pasture land that abounds in the Brazilian Amazon, oil palm could generate more jobs and tax revenue than the dominant form of land use in the region: low intensity cattle ranching."
- "If it replaces pasture, not forest, oil palm could buffer the forest frontier against fire, maintain and restore ecological functions like evapotranspiration, and help intensify cattle production in nearby areas (palm kernel, a byproduct of palm oil production, can serve a protein-rich feed)."
- "Whether Brazil's sustainable palm oil push bears fruit will be contingent on the Brazilian government's willingness to enforce policies and industry's desire to access premium markets."
- Statistical confirmation of indirect land use change in the Brazilian Amazon, 24 May 2011 by Eugenio Y Arima, Peter Richards, Robert Walker and Marcellus M Caldas in Environmental Research Letters; from the Abstract:
- "Expansion of global demand for soy products and biofuel poses threats to food security and the environment. One environmental impact that has raised serious concerns is loss of Amazonian forest through indirect land use change (ILUC), whereby mechanized agriculture encroaches on existing pastures, displacing them to the frontier. This phenomenon has been hypothesized by many researchers and projected on the basis of simulation for the Amazonian forests of Brazil....The present article [utilizes] a spatial regression model capable of linking the expansion of mechanized agriculture in settled agricultural areas to pasture conversions on distant, forest frontiers. In an application for a recent period (2003–2008), the model demonstrates that ILUC is significant and of considerable magnitude...."
- Brazil: Amazon rainforest deforestation rises sharply, 19 May 2011 by BBC News: "Satellite images show deforestation increased from 103 sq km in March and April 2010 to 593 sq km (229 sq miles) in the same period of 2011, Brazil's space research institute says."
- "Much of the destruction has been in Mato Grosso state, the centre of soya farming in Brazil."
- "Some environmentalists argue that rising demand for soy and cattle is prompting farmers to clear more of their land."
- "But others see a direct link between the jump in deforestation and months of debate over easing an existing law on forest protection."
- "'You have 300-400 lawmakers here in Brasilia sending the message that profiting from deforestation will be amnestied, that crime pays,' Marcio Astrini from Greenpeace told Reuters."
- World's largest beef company signs Amazon rainforest pact, 29 April 2011 by Mongabay.com: "The world's largest meat processor has agreed to stop buying beef from ranches associated with slave labor and illegal deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon, according to the public prosecutor's office in the state of Acre. The deal absolves JBS-Friboi from 2 billion reals ($1.3 billion) in potential fines and paves the way for the firm to continue selling meat to companies concerned about their environmental reputation."
- "Under the terms of the deal, JBS agreed to stop buying cattle from areas embargoed by environmental inspection agencies and lands classified as conservation units or indigenous territories, unless the management plans of those areas allow for livestock. Cattle production often occurs illegally in forests zoned for conservation or indigenous use and squatters are used as proxies to grab the land. JBS will also not buy cattle from ranches that have been convicted of labor abuses, including slave labor."
- "The deal could help curtail deforestation for cattle production — which accounts for the bulk of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon — but its effectiveness still hinges on local governance, where corruption remains a problem."
- Sugarcane Cools Climate, Study Finds, 17 April 2011 by Science Daily: "Brazilians are world leaders in using biofuels for gasoline. About a quarter of their automobile fuel consumption comes from sugarcane, which significantly reduces carbon dioxide emissions that otherwise would be emitted from using gasoline. Now scientists from the Carnegie Institution's Department of Global Ecology have found that sugarcane has a double benefit. Expansion of the crop in areas previously occupied by other Brazilian crops cools the local climate. It does so by reflecting sunlight back into space and by lowering the temperature of the surrounding air as the plants 'exhale' cooler water."
- "The researchers emphasize that the beneficial effects are contingent on the fact sugarcane is grown on areas previously occupied by crops or pastureland, and not in areas converted from natural vegetation. It is also important that other crops and pastureland do not move to natural vegetation areas, which would contribute to deforestation."
- See the full study in the journal Nature Climate Change, "Direct impacts on local climate of sugar-cane expansion in Brazil"
- Cows' guts yield clues for new biofuels, 28 January 2011 by One India News: "A new study has found dozens of previously unknown microbial enzymes in the bovine rumen -- the cow's primary grass-digestion chamber -- that contribute to the breakdown of switchgrass, a renewable biofuel energy source."
- "After incubating the switchgrass in the rumen for 72 hours, researchers conducted a genomic analysis of all of the microbes that adhered to switchgrass. They cloned some of these genes into bacteria, and successfully produced 90 proteins of interest. They found that 57 percent of these proteins demonstrated enzymatic activity against cellulosic plant material."
- Scientists Question EPA's Greenhouse Gas Emission Estimates, 28 June 2010 by azocleantech.com: "The approach the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) uses to estimate greenhouse gas emissions from agricultural anaerobic lagoons that treat manure contains errors and may underestimate methane emissions by up to 65%, according to scientists".
- "An interdisciplinary team of scientists from the University of Missouri evaluated the EPA and IPCC [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] approach to estimate greenhouse emissions from anaerobic lagoons." They "documented errors in the approach, which the EPA and IPCC adapted from a method used to estimate methane production from anaerobic digesters." Additionally, the team "found that uncovered anaerobic lagoons were more efficient at converting waste to methane than predicted using literature based on digesters."
- See the paper, An Evaluation of the USEPA Calculations of Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Anaerobic Lagoons.
- Big Meat: Fueling Change or Greenwashing Fuel?, 3 June 2010 by Anna Lappé in The Atlantic: "On January 13, 2009, Tyson—one of the world's largest processors of chicken, beef, and pork — and the fuel company Syntroleum broke ground in Geismar, Louisiana, on a 'renewable' diesel plant. The fuel will be produced in part with Tyson factory farm byproducts, including animal fat and poultry litter."
- "Tyson claims these facilities produce eco-friendly, cleaner-burning fuels from scraps that would otherwise be wasted. But critics beg to differ, arguing that the fuel doesn't actually burn any cleaner and, worse, that these plants incentivize intensive livestock production and processing methods that are decidedly bad for the environment and the climate. They charge that this fuel is renewable only in the narrowest sense, if you ignore the complete life cycle of its production. The fuels depend on energy-intensive, greenhouse-gas-emitting confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs), which require feed raised with methods that deplete topsoil and overuse synthetic fertilizer, contributing to carbon dioxide emissions."
- Surging costs hit food security in poorer nations, 6 June 2010 by Associated Press: "With food costing up to 70 percent of family income in the poorest countries, rising prices are squeezing household budgets and threatening to worsen malnutrition....Compounding the problem in many countries: prices hardly fell from their peaks in 2008, when global food prices jumped in part due to a smaller U.S. wheat harvest and demand for crops to use in biofuels."
- "The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization's food price index — which includes grains, meat, dairy and other items in 90 countries — was up 22 percent in March from a year earlier though still below 2008 levels."
- "Costs also have been pushed up by a rebound in global commodity prices, especially for soy destined for Asian consumption. That has prompted a shift in Argentina and elsewhere to produce more for export, which has led to local shortages of beef and other food."
- "In Argentina, soy production has taken over more than 32 million acres (13 million hectares) of grassland once used to raise cattle and replaced less profitable wheat and corn as well, driving up prices in supermarkets."
- China Farm Gets Shocking Amount of Power From Cow Poop, 6 May 2010 by The New York Times: "A 250,000-head dairy operation in northeast China plans to open the world's largest cow manure-fed power project in September, according to General Electric Co., the company supplying four biogas turbines to the Liaoning Huishan Cow Farm in Shenyang. For comparison, the largest U.S. dairy farms have 15,000 cattle."
- "China's newest livestock digester will reduce piles of dung, yield fertilizer and heat, and will supply 38,000 megawatt-hours of power annually to the state's power grid, enough to meet the average demand of some 15,000 Chinese residents. It produces biogas, a methane and carbon dioxide mix emanating from manure, grease, sewage or other organic materials allowed to stew in an oxygen-free chamber."
- "The barriers to the expansion of biogas are about economics, not technology, and how long it takes for biogas projects to pay off varies country by country."
- "The biogas field could be one more example of the ways the United States is falling behind China. Yesterday, Energy Secretary Steven Chu said that the United States is lagging behind China, which provides strong tax incentives for a host of renewable energy technologies."
- EPA Administrator and Agriculture Secretary Team Up to Promote Farm Energy Generation, 3 May 2010 press release by USDA: "U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa P. Jackson today announced a new interagency agreement promoting renewable energy generation and slashing greenhouse gas emissions from livestock operations. The agreement expands the work of the AgSTAR program, a joint EPA-USDA effort that helps livestock producers reduce methane emissions from their operations."
- "The collaboration will expand technical assistance efforts, improve technical standards and guidance for the construction and evaluation of biogas recovery systems, and expand outreach to livestock producers and assist them with pre-feasibility studies."
- "Biogas is composed primarily of methane, a greenhouse gas 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Biogas emitted from manure management systems called digesters can be collected and used to produce electricity, heat or hot water."
- Deforestation-free leather comes closer to reality in the Brazilian Amazon, 3 May 2010 by Mongabay.com: "Prominent leather buyers have developed a new traceability system to ensure that leather products from Brazil don't result in deforestation, reports the National Wildlife Federation, an NGO working to improve the environmental performance of the cattle industry in the Amazon."
- "Under the terms of the protocol, meat packers must certify that all their direct suppliers have registered their farms — providing GPS coordinates of their holdings — by November 2010. Packers who fail to meet the criteria will be unable to sell leather to members of the Leather Working Group."
- "Improving the traceability of beef and leather is significant because cattle ranching is the single largest driver of Amazon destruction: 80 percent of deforested land ends up as cattle pasture. Ranching is also Brazil's largest source of greenhouse gas emissions."
- PRC's Drive to Tap Biogas in Rural Sector Gets ADB Loan, 19 April 2010 press release by the Asian Development Bank: "The People’s Republic of China’s (PRC) drive to expand the use of biogas energy generated from waste materials is getting support from a $66.08 million Asian Development Bank (ADB) loan."
- "The financial assistance for the Integrated Renewable Biomass Energy Development Sector Project has been approved by ADB's Board of Directors. The loan will be used to help construct biogas plants in poor rural areas of Heilongjiang, Henan, Jiangxi and Shandong provinces, benefiting 118 livestock farms and agricultural enterprises.
- "The project will introduce high-temperature flare technology to minimize methane gas emissions from the plants. It will support the manufacture of bio-fertilizers from biogas sludge for eco-farming, aiding the government’s push to encourage the reuse and recycling of organic waste."
- "Under PRC’s Medium- and Long-Term Development Plan for Renewable Energy, about 10,000 large-scale biogas plants are earmarked to be set up on livestock farms by 2020 with an annual biogas yield of up to 14 billion cubic meters."
- Does growing soy destroy Amazon rainforest?, 16 April 2010 by Environmental Research Web: "In the first seven years of this century, around 19 million hectares of rainforest in the Legal Amazon region of Brazil were cut down. But the jury's out on the chief culprit behind this deforestation – some say it's the growth in cattle ranches while others believe it's increased cultivation of crops such as soy."
- "Cattle ranching has boomed in the Brazilian Amazon since the late 1970s when state subsidies and infrastructure development kicked in. But export crops such as soy, which is mainly used in animal feed and cooking oil, have increased significantly over the last decade, encouraged by expanding world markets and government incentives. Today Brazil is one of the world's largest exporters of agricultural products."
- Read the full report, The role of pasture and soybean in deforestation of the Brazilian Amazon
- UN ‘exaggerated’ meat impact on climate change, 25 March 2010 by Farmer's Guardian: "A leading scientist has accused the UN of exaggerating the impact of meat and dairy production on climate change."
- "A 2006 UN report published by the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation claimed meat production was responsible for 18 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions....The report, titled 'Livestock’s Long Shadow', added agriculture had a greater impact on global warming than transport."
- "But Professor Frank Mitloehner, an air quality specialist from the University of California at Davis (UCD), said agriculture’s impact had been exaggerated....He said the UN figures totted up emissions from farm to table – including the impact of growing the feed, from livestock and from processing....However, transport emissions only considered emissions from fossil fuels burned while driving."
- "He said leading authorities in the US agreed raising cattle and pigs for food accounted for about 3 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions, while transportation created an estimated 26 percent."
- Amazon rainforest will bear cost of biofuel policies in Brazil, 8 February 2010 by Mongabay: "Business-as-usual agricultural expansion to meet biofuel production targets for 2020 will take a heavy toll on Brazil's Amazon rainforest in coming years, undermining the potential emissions savings of transitioning from fossil fuels to biofuels, warns a new paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). The research suggests that intensification of cattle ranching, combined with efforts to promote high-yielding oil crops like oil palm could lessen forecast greenhouse gas emissions from indirect land use in the region."
- The researchers find "that while relatively little forest land will be directly converted for biofuel production, large swathes of rainforest and cerrado will be indirectly impacted through displacement of cattle ranching, presently the dominant form of land use in the Brazilian Amazon."
- The authors "'argue that to avoid the undesired indirect land-use change by biofuels presented here, strategies for cooperation between the cattle ranching and biofuel-growing sectors should be implemented".
- See the PNAS paper, Lapola et al. Indirect land-use changes can overcome carbon savings from biofuels in Brazil.
- USDA Makes a Move on Methane, 12 December 2009 by CQ Politics: "Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a conference call from Copenhagen that his department and the dairy industry have reached an agreement to accelerate efforts to reduce the industry’s greenhouse gas emissions 25 percent by 2020. The announcement is part of the Obama administration’s continuing campaign to convince farmers they can benefit from an international agreement on climate change."
- Giants in Cattle Industry Agree to Help Fight Deforestation, 6 October 2009 by The New York Times: "At a conference...organized by Greenpeace, the four cattle companies — Bertin, JBS-Friboi, Marfrig and Minerva — agreed to support Greenpeace’s call for an end to the deforestation."
- "Blairo Maggi, the governor of Mato Grosso, the Brazilian state with the highest rate of deforestation in the Amazon and the country’s largest cattle herd, said Monday that he would support efforts to protect the Amazon and provide high-resolution satellite imagery to help monitor the region."
- "Conspicuously missing from Monday’s announcement was the government of President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva of Brazil. The government is struggling to reconcile its social and development goals in the Amazon with its desire to be a major player in global climate change talks."
- The Other Inconvenient Truth: The Crisis in Global Land Use, 5 October 2009 by Yale Environment 360: "Our use of land, particularly for agriculture, is absolutely essential to the success of the human race. We depend on agriculture to supply us with food, feed, fiber, and, increasingly, biofuels. Without a highly efficient, productive, and resilient agricultural system, our society would collapse almost overnight."
- "[L]and use is also one of the biggest contributors to global warming....The vast majority comes from deforestation, methane emissions from animals and rice fields, and nitrous oxide emissions from heavily fertilized fields. Yet, for some reason, agriculture has been largely able to avoid the attention of emissions reductions policies."
- In Search of Wildlife-friendly Biofuels: Could Native Prairie Plants Be the Answer, 29 September 2009 by NewsWise/Michigan Technological University: "The unintended consequence of crop-based biofuels may be the loss of wildlife habitat, particularly that of the birds who call this country’s grasslands home, say researchers from Michigan Technological University and The Nature Conservancy."
- "What’s the solution? There are at least two ways to produce bioenergy without destroying wildlife [and habitat], the researchers say. One is to use biomass sources that don’t require additional land, such as agricultural residues and other wastes from municipal, animal, food and forestry industries."
- JBS agrees to protect Amazon forest 28 September 2009 by Northern Colorado Business Report: JBS, the world's largest beef company, "has agreed to make a commitment to Greenpeace to not buy products from protected areas in the Amazon region"...claims it will "abide by practices that 'eliminate deforestation' in the Amazon biome." 
- Beef Producers in Amazon Declare Moratorium, 28 August 2009 by VOA News: "Major beef and leather producers in Brazil have agreed not to use cattle raised in recently deforested areas of the Amazon rainforest."
- "The governor of the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso has called on meat producers not to buy cattle raised on recently deforested lands in the Amazonian state. Now, two major beef producers in Brazil, Bertin and Marfrig, have announced they are joining the initiative. Shoe makers Nike and Timberland signed on earlier this month."
- "The Brazilian government and independent third-party observers will enforce the moratorium using satellite photographs, aerial fly-overs, and site visits. The meat processors have agreed not to buy cattle from those responsible for newly deforested lands."
- Brazilian Soy Moratorium Extended For One Year, 28 July 2009 by Dow Jones on CNNMoney.com: "The Brazilian Vegetable Oils Industry Association...Tuesday said that the soy moratorium will be extended for one year. 'This is the sort of industry initiative we need to stop the destruction of the Amazon',' said Paulo Adario, environmental group Greenpeace's Amazon Campaign director..."
- Food, fuel, and the hidden margins of capital, by Peter D. Richards; April 2011 in the Journal of Land Use Science.
- From the Abstract: "Perhaps no region has drawn more attention to the environmental impacts of expanding agricultural production than the Amazon....In this article, I provide a location-based conceptualization of indirect land use change that brings to light the intra-regional movement of capital and skills between the cattle and agriculture sectors. The article suggests that amid rapid increases in rents for soy production and land prices, ranchers face strong incentives to relocate their operations to forest regions."
- Forest Footprint Disclosure Annual Review (PDF file) - This February 2010 Forest Footprint Disclosure Project report makes available the results of its 2009 company disclosure request. The report "reveals the names of those businesses that have responded to its first call to disclose details of their ‘Forest Footprint’," defined as "the extent to which procurement policies for Forest Risk Commodities (FRCs) such as palm oil, soy, timber, beef, leather and biofuels are linked to deforestation. The Report identifies two high profile British High Street names as ‘Best Performers’ in their sectors – Marks & Spencer (General Retail) and Sainsbury’s (Food and Drug Retail)."  (PDF file)
- From Source to Sink - Reducing Commodity Agriculture's Impacts on Natural Lands - December 2009, National Wildlife Federation.
|Animals and products: Cattle (beef, leather) | Pigs/Swine (pork) | Sheep (wool)|
Events: International Workshop on Solutions to Deforestation and Greenhouse Gas Emissions Caused by Cattle Expansion (2009)
| Dry lands | Land tenure | Land use change (LUC case studies) | Land Use Impacts of Fossil Fuels | ILUC Portal|
What is bioenergy? | Benefits/Risks | Who is doing what?