Extensive farming better for food security, finds report
Published:  22 October, 2012

Farmers could help global food security, reduce input costs and improve animal welfare by moving away from intensive systems, according to a new report from Compassion in World Farming (CIWF).

The report, which looks at how the world might meet its food security needs in 2050, concluded that intensive, grain-based systems are actually less beneficial for food security than extensive systems because they use up arable land that could be used to grow food directly for human consumption.

It urges the livestock industry to reduce the quantity of arable crops, particularly cereals, fed to animals and explore alternative feeding regimes, including the use of agro-industrial products.

Emily Lewis-Brown, CIWF research manager, told Meatinfo.co.uk: “What this report is showing is that most of the increase in yield that has been achieved in intensive livestock systems has come from feeding the animals on grain. But actually, the bigger food security picture shows that this is detracting from food security, not adding to food security.

“I would be looking for the livestock industry to use more robust breeds that can take some forage and crop residue, so they are not exclusively reliant upon these grain-based feeds. Because I think that gives healthier animals, it can improve animal welfare and it helps deliver food security globally.”

She added that with global grain prices rising, livestock farmers could also benefit economically from switching from intensive, grain-fed systems to more extensive, low-input systems.

However, James Wilde, communications manager for Eblex, questioned the relevance of the report to England’s beef and lamb sector, pointing out that most of the industry is already following a largely extensive, rain-fed pasture system, with 95% of the energy needs of sheep and 85% of the energy needs of beef cattle met through grazed grass.

“This report does appear to make some rather large generalisations about intensive farming that do not accurately reflect the system we use for beef and lamb production in England,” he said.