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Sustainability of livestock agriculture under scrutiny

By: Lyndsey Smith

September 10, 2021

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The title of livestock sustainability specialist could infer that there’s a finite amount of time that the role is relevant.

After all, shouldn’t we, at some point, reach being sustainable, and move on?

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The trouble is, there isn’t a universally agreed upon measurement of sustainability. As Christoph Wand, livestock sustainability specialist for Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs explains, we still have work to do.

In drawing from the Sustainable Agriculture Initiative of sustainability, Wand says that sustainability can be defined as the efficient production of farmed livestock that protects and improves the natural environment, is economically viable for the farmers, and that includes the protection of the health and welfare of farmed species.

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Wand argues that livestock production is not yet sustainable — though the sector has made great strides forward. But seven years into the role, he points out that any change takes time and momentum. Since sustainability became a focus and a goal of the industry, Wand says we have to recognize just how long change can take to happen.

For example, building housing for livestock is often a 20 to 30 year investment, or more. Research and rules and regulations can move much more quickly than infrastructure, leaving farmers in a costly position if they intend to undertake major changes to how they farm.

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Ultimately, there needs to be a better understanding of the full system of production, including energy use, profitability, and health and welfare. Wand says there also needs to be some hard discussions regarding codes of practice and other over-arching programs. If a sector feels they are doing well, why is uptake on codes so low? All this points to a job not yet done, he says.