Livestock’s long shadow

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Livestock’s long shadow”, is an expression used by Food & Agriculture Organization (FAO) for their famous 2006 report “to assess the full impact of the livestock sector on environmental problems”.

Millions of vulnerable people rely on livestock in a changing climate, because animals adapt to difficult conditions and withstand climate shocks; unlike most crops. They unfortunately produce more greenhouse gas (GHG) than plants because of feed production, enteric fermentation, animal waste, and land-use change: all that accounts for 14,5% of global man-made GHG. But methane is 28 times more potent than carbone dioxyde, and cattle’s wonderful stomach is responsible for 30% of global methane emission[1]. Cattle's impact goes up to 9,5% of global GHG emissions when adding methane from cows waste and feed over-production (maize, soybean, various cereals) that eventually leads to deforestation.

With 1 billion animals worldwide, cattle is an over-sized industry causing the “linear economy” to break the harmonious carbon cycle when feeding huge amount of exported feed to cows, resulting on an excessive production of manure (ergo GHG) and methane per hectare of land. It goes without saying that dairy and meat consumption should be reduced in Western countries, but as any agricultural system is always linked to a particular context, one can say that cattle is still very suitable to some regions such as the so-called dutch “Groene Hart”[2] where soils are wet and coevered with grass. Representing 8% of Netherland, these terrains called peatlands are the most efficient ways to stock carbon on Earth. Historically harvested for fuel, peat is now protected in the NL to keep the landscape's integrity: no other agriculture than livestock farming is allowed to legally be persued.


  1. We are here talking about enteric methane caused by grass fermentation
  2. In english: green heart