"We can't cut production as a solution": Looking at sustainability in the livestock sector

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Being able to define “sustainability ” is critical when it comes to understanding the impact of livestock production, and while environmental metrics are often top of mind, the definition must also account for social and economic outcomes.

Dr. Sara Place, chief sustainability officer with animal health company Elanco, joined RealAg Radio host Shaun Haney this week, to discuss sustainability in the livestock sector.

When it comes to defining and implementing, there is pressure not only from consumers, but from investors as well, with both having stake in the process.

“Those are both very important from that economic standpoint, because, who is putting the dollars into the industry? The consumer. And then also from the standpoint of any farmer or rancher knows, you have to be able to have a good relationship with your banker as well,” says Place.

Progress has certainly been made when it comes to defining sustainability and implementing these practices, but as Place notes, no one is claiming perfection yet either — more work can definitely be done. (Story continues below video.)

“That’s where we come back to the fact that we need a good measuring stick to keep us on the right track,” she explains.

The main question is how we can reduce enteric methane emissions directly, notes Place, which to Elanco, translates as looking at total emissions produced per pound of beef. Elanco, and other companies in similar situations, are making products that alter rumen fermentation now and can have a benefit from the feed efficiency standpoint.

“It’s kind of a dual thing from an innovation standpoint,” she says. “Because at the end of the day, agriculture is not an optional industry. We have to eat, we have to nourish ourselves. Animal ag broadly plays an incredible role in human nutrition in terms of nutrient dense food that beef and other animal food source foods provide. Until we reach peak human population, we can’t be cutting production as a solution.”

Related: Can we eat our way out of climate change?

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