COP23 Recognizes – Sort of – Livestock’s Role in Climate Change

When I arrived at COP23 in Bonn, Germany, I faced a giant elephant in the room. Or rather, a giant beefy steer. Either way, there was an urgent climate change solution being largely ignored at the annual Conference of Parties (COP) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). That urgent climate change solution is to reduce meat consumption. Read More >

Doing What Congress Won’t: China Bans Antimicrobials as Growth Promoters

In 2009, China produced 450 million pigs

China has announced that it will join the European Union in banning the use of antimicrobial growth promoters (AGPs) in food animal production, reports.  When implemented, the ban could affect food animal production throughout the country.  The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization estimated Chinese production at more than 4.7 billion chickens, 450 million pigs, and 84 million cattle in 2009, the most recent year for which data are available.  This is clearly big news.

The use of AGPs in food animal production has long been a concern in the public health and medical communities.  The administration of non-therapeutic doses of antimicrobials to increase animals’ growth rates has been found repeatedly to select for resistant bacteria.  The practice could even induce mutations that make bacteria previously susceptible to antibiotics become resistant to them. Read More >

How much meat do we eat, anyway?

Reading the new federal dietary guidelines made me want to look into this question.  The guidelines, just released, say that Americans presently eat an average of 3.7 ounces daily of meat and poultry.  But, the figures I typically see are double that, or more.  So, why, in the brand-new guidelines, are USDA and HHS telling us that Americans eat less than a quarter pound of meat on a given day?  I set out to reconcile these figures:

Who says what? US per capita meat consumption (ounces per day)

High estimate

Mid estimate

Low estimate



of the UN

NHANES data from the CDC*

New NCI analysis of NHANES data

2010 federal dietary guidelines**

Meat & poultry





Red & processed





*In: Wang, 2010.  **See: table 5-1 on page 51 of the guidelines.

High estimate

screen-shot-2011-03-21-at-10738-pm1An oft-cited estimate for meat consumption in our country comes from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO).  The FAO figure of three-quarters of a pound daily has gained traction: The New York Times and The Guardian both cited this data for national meat consumption, propagating an image of Americans consuming a very large amount of meat on a daily basis.  This reporting appears logical, because the FAO data combine US meat production and imports, and then subtract exports and typical rates of spoilage and waste, arriving at 124 kilograms per capita per year, or 12 ounces per day.

However, Hodan Farah Wells of the USDA Economic Research Service points out that the FAO data appear to represent the carcass weight of meat, not its retail weight (e-correspondence, March 2011).  There is a big difference between the two.  Retail weight represents cuts of meat, ready to cook.  Carcass weight is heavier: it includes the weight of the bones, tendons, ligaments and fat that do not end up in the eventual retail cuts.  For a beef steer, the difference between carcass weight and retail weight can be a couple hundred pounds.


Live weight (lb)

Carcass weight

Retail weight

(% of live weight)

Steer (beef)




Pig (pork)




Broiler (chicken)



66% (less if boneless)

Sources: Cornell Waste Management Institute fact sheets; Advances in Meat Research, Pearson & Dutson, eds.; Principles of Meat Science, Hedrick et al., eds. (thank you Mary Schwarz)

Carrie Daniel of NCI, author of a recent paper in Public Health Nutrition about trends in US meat consumption, explains that the FAO definition of “consumption” in this case is the total amount of “the commodity” available for human consumption (e-correspondence, March 2011).  Yet a bunch of this matter gets diverted from the human food supply and sent for rendering into products other than human food.  (Industrial and agricultural products, and pet food, are some of the biggies).  FAO keeps the numbers rougher than it might for the sake of international comparison: not every country can provide equally precise information on how livestock and meat circulate in society, so FAO reports the data at a level that permits cross-border comparisons. Read More >

Greetings from Cuba!

CLF’s Sr. Research Program Coordinators Jesse Kurtz-Nicholl and Sarah Rodman are visiting Cuba as part of a Natural Environmental Ecological Management delegation. Members of the group will see first hand large-scale Cuban infrastructure developed to support its 18-year-old, world-renowned sustainable agricultural system in both the rural and urban sectors.

This is the first of a few blog posts from the island of Cuba, where we are lucky enough to be studying the world recognized, sustainable model of Cuban agriculture.  Before I begin reporting on some of what we have been exposed to so far, I think readers should have a short background on how the sustainable agriculture system developed in Cuba.

cubagraphicWith the collapse of the communism in Eastern Europe in 1989 and the Soviet Union in 1990, Cuba lost 80 percent of its export and import market practically overnight. Cuba had a heavily industrialized, export-oriented agriculture system, dependent on petroleum inputs related to fertilizer, pesticides and fuel.  During the three decades from the Cuban revolution in 1959 to the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1990, Cuba averaged 1.3 million tons of chemical fertilizers, $80 million dollars worth of pesticides and 600,000 tons of feed concentrates.

Cuba exported large quantities of sugar to the Soviet Union based on very favorable trading terms, allowing Cuba not only to receive enough oil for its domestic purposes, but as a revenue stream selling surplus oil on the open market.  Even though Cuba was very productive as an agricultural system, it was heavily dependent on food imports, which accounted for 57 percent of the calories of the Cuban people before the collapse of the Soviet Union. The period after the collapse of the Soviet Union, from the 1990’s to the mid 2000’s was interestingly called the “special period in peace time” when caloric availability in the country dropped significantly, along with the weights and the health of the Cuban people.

With no subsidies from the Soviet Union, and a serious lack of resources in the form of oil, fertilizers and pesticides, Cuba began developing a low-input, high yield, semi-organic agriculture system that has taken root throughout the country, with impressive production coming from urban centers.  Reports show over 50 percent of Havana’s fruits and vegetables, for example, are grown within Havana city limits. Urban farmers in Cuba alone provide nearly enough produce to meet the 300 grams of vegetables daily

Apartments overlooking an organiponico

Apartments overlooking an organiponico

that are recommended by the UN FAO. Cuba’s agriculture system is a source of pride with much information being disseminated from the Cuban government about the harmfulness of chemicals in agriculture and the healthfulness of Cuban food.   In addition to healthy foods, the system has provided over 300,000 new employment opportunities and significant community development. Read More >

How Much Does U.S. Livestock Production Contribute to Greenhouse Gas Emissions?


"Livestock’s Long Shadow"

A round of applause for Washington Post reporter Ezra Klein for pointing out last week the undeniable fact that meat production is a major contributor to global warming, and that consumers can make a difference by cutting out their meat consumption just one day a week. How big a difference in greenhouse gases reduction it would make in the United States has long been a topic of debate, and something I’ve wanted to clarify for quite a while. Before I explain why, I want to make it clear that there is more than enough evidence that shows reducing meat consumption nationwide would lead to dramatic improvements in environmental degradation, widespread public and personal health risks, animal welfare and environmental and social justice issues.

First off, I’m pleased to see that mainstream media outlets are finally increasing their coverage of food systems’ effects on climate change. Believe it or not, it’s taken a while for the news gatekeepers to catch on. Last year Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future’s research and policy director Roni Neff published a paper in the journal of Public Health Nutrition that found U.S. newspaper coverage did not reflect the increasingly solid evidence of climate change effects due to current food systems. Read More >

Farming must change to feed the world

The world’s farmers must quickly switch to more sustainable and productive farming systems to grow the food needed by a swelling world population and respond to climate change, FAO’s top crops expert told an international farm congress in New Delhi today. 

In a keynote speech to 1,000 participants at the IVth World Congress on Conservation Agriculture (CA) in New Delhi, Shivaji Pandey, Director of FAO’s Plant Production and Protection Division, endorsed CA as an essential part of that change.

“The world has no alternative to pursuing Sustainable Crop Production Intensification to meet the growing food and feed demand, to alleviate poverty and to protect its natural resources. Conservation Agriculture is an essential element of that Intensification,” Pandey said. 

Conservation Agriculture is a farming system that does away with regular ploughing and tillage and promotes permanent soil cover and diversified crops rotation to ensure optimal soil health and productivity. Introduced some 25 years ago, it is now practiced on 100 million ha of land across the world. Read the complete article.