Conference Review

International Conference

Steps to Sustainable Livestock

12 – 15th January 2016, University of Bristol, UK


Thank you to all our participants from over 40 countries for making this a truly international conference.

We covered a diverse range of topics over the two days and brought together many key global research areas including:

  • impacts of animal nutrition, disease and welfare on livestock productivity
  • resolving and rethinking food waste
  • food sovereignty and security
  • public health and land use.

Many people commented that a major strength of the conference was the ‘buzz’ in the room, so we hope that new networks have developed across a range of disciplines and that existing ones have been revitalised.

28 Steps 2016 ProceedingsHarindar Makkar (FAO, Rome) kicked off the proceedings with a remarkable exploration of the manifold aspects of the food-not-feed agenda, i.e. utilising alternative non-human edible resources rather than human-edible food for feeding livestock. This was followed by a championing of grazing systems to deliver sustainability by Michael Lee (UK) utilising a sustainability metrics approach using the Global Farm Platform network. Glen Broderick (USA) then discussed optimising ruminant conversion of feed to human food and recommended balancing diets to ensure nutrients are not overfed, and finding the dietary composition “sweet-spot”. Ian Givens (UK) described how animal-derived foods might usefully improve nutritional value of human diets across the life stages, contributing to health. Patricia Lucas (UK), considering the costs of a healthy diet, and whether we can afford higher food costs, surprised us that half a million UK children are food deprived relative to the minimum acceptable level defined by the UK public.

Researchers also agreed on requirements for improved and defined metrics when assessing environmental impacts, for instance Imke de Boer (Netherlands) who showed that the measure you choose affects your conclusion. Chuck Rice (USA) considered management practices for minimizing the environmental footprint of beef cattle grazing systems, whilst John Webster (UK) introduced the idea of ‘Emergy’, a metric for assessing the sustainability of livestock production. Mike Wilkinson (UK) made the important observation that because much of their diet is human-inedible forages and by-product feeds, ruminants are as efficient as pigs and poultry at converting potentially human-edible feeds into milk and meat.

Other highlights included investigation into livestock diseases affecting productivity. Brian Perry (Kenya) provided a tour de force on the contributions of animal health and welfare to sustainable global livestock systems. Becky Whay (UK) reminded us that although delivering animal health is a big win for improving livestock productivity, welfare is about more than health alone, and that we need to value health happiness and efficiency in our animal systems. Urvashi Rangan (USA) shared recent data on bacterial and antimicrobial resistant ‘superbug’ prevalence in ground beef produced from grass fed animals, which was significantly lower than in conventionally produced feedlot beef at retail.

57 Steps 2016 ProceedingsA particular interest shared by many researchers was helminth infection, a major constraint to health, welfare and productivity in grazing livestock systems. Connie Grace and others (Eire) showed that mixed species sward grazing had the potential to reduce helminth colonisation and increase time to slaughter in grazing sheep. Graeme Martin (Western Australia) presented research exploring the anthelmintic properties of plants native to Australia. He also argued that while indigenous breeds having greater genetic resistance to nematode infection should be conserved, 21% of all breeds are under threat because of intensification of farming systems. Finally, Jahashi Nzalawahe (Tanzania) described the problem of significant levels of resistance to commonly used flukicides in Fasciola gigantica infecting East African cattle.

The role of tourism and re-wilding on food productivity was explored, as well as the paradigm of rural business development, which proved thought provoking for many. Michael Winter (UK) provided a most insightful and entertaining exploration of livestock farming and contemporary society. At the intersect of genetics and economics, Ellen Goddard (Canada) examined the alignment (or otherwise) of incentives in genomic selection and sustainable cattle production.

38 Steps 2016 Gala DinnerIn summing up the achievements of the conference, Mark Eisler (UK) observed that it had moved forward the food-not-feed agenda significantly, improved understanding of appropriate metrics of sustainability, and fostered multidisciplinary consideration of many key issues. Nevertheless important gaps remained, including the need for more discussion of land use and the land sparing/land sharing debate, and further consideration of ecosystem services, biodiversity and the non-food value of livestock.

We are already looking ahead to the second Steps to Sustainable Livestock conference and anticipate meeting you all then.

Please see the Conference Abstracts book; abstracts will also be available via CABI. Speaker presentations are available here.

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