Agriculture and society have entered a critical phase as the global population grows in number and income while the availability of land and freshwater for agriculture diminishes. In 2006, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) put forth the challenge of doubling the global production of livestock products during the next few decades without increasing environmental damage that might be related to such activities.

A new Issue Paper from the Council for Agricultural Science and Technology (CAST), titled Water and Land Issues Associated with Animal Agriculture: A U.S. Perspective, examines the livestock, land and water issues that FAO raised, including concerns examined in the publication titled Livestock’s Long Shadow. The authors draw heavily on published data and literature to look at the current status and trends of physical and biological indicators. They also looked at policies as well as regulatory and non-regulatory approaches to addressing issues such as rising meat consumption, water quality, land degradation, feed grain demands and manure volumes.

The experts who compiled the paper represent beef, dairy, pork and poultry production. They focused on:

  • Policy transitions to prevent economic damage to producers and consumers;
  • Environmental management programs; and
  • The life cycle approach and the systems approach.

The authors point out that the relationship between livestock and land and water resources is directly affected by

  1. Improvements in productivity registered through technological gains and intensification,
  2. Improvements in waste-management systems and understanding of pollution processes, and
  3. Emerging demands on livestock production systems to address other social goals.

The paper emphasizes the need for sustained research, development and education to dramatically increase the productivity of livestock and related systems while decreasing resource use and negative environmental effects. As the concluding line states:

“Policy to ensure access to resources and education and timely distribution of food to the poorest people on the planet is needed to prevent disaster.”

The Task Force authors include: Kelly D. Zering, Chair, North Carolina St. University; G. Larry Newton, University of Georgia; Terence J. Centner, University of Georgia; John M. Sweeten, Texas A&M University System; Deanne Meyer, University of California–Davis; Steven Woodruff, Woodruff & Howe Environmetal Engineering, Inc.

The full text of CAST Issue Paper 50 is available online at the CAST website,, along with many of CAST’s other scientific publications. All CAST Issue Papers and Commentaries are free.

CAST is an international consortium of scientific and professional societies, companies, and nonprofit organizations. It assembles, interprets, and communicates credible, science-based information regionally, nationally, and internationally to legislators, regulators, policymakers, the media, the private sector, and the public.

There is a companion piece-- Issue Paper 47, Air Issues Associated with Animal Agriculture: A North American Perspective