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The Impact of Animal Agriculture on the Environment and Climate Change in India: A Focus on Methane

HSI report examining how livestock farming in India is the primary driver of carbon emissions, pollution and hunger challenges.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, approximately 67.5 billion land animals were raised globally for human consumption in 2008. India has the largest national herd of cattle and buffalo in the world, with over 170 million cattle and over 100 million buffalo. Over 38 million buffalo and 38 million cattle were used to produce milk in India in 2008. India is also one of the top five egg and chicken meat producers in the world. The nation's 230 million egg-laying hens produce approximately 55.6 billion eggs per year.

Waste

Traditional farming systems balance the number of animals with the crops' ability to absorb the animals' manure. On factory farms, where thousands of animals are confined, the amount of manure can overwhelm the ability of the surrounding land to absorb it. When animal waste is over-applied to land and exceeds the capacity of soil and crops to assimilate its nutrients, it becomes a pollutant—and can contaminate water supplies and emit harmful gases into the atmosphere. According to the USDA, the problem of excess nutrients is most pronounced in poultry production operations, which produce 52% of the excess phosphorous and 64% of the excess nitrogen created by farm animal waste in the United States.

Hunger & Sustainability

Approximately 70% of the world's agricultural lands are dedicated to raising animals for food, including grazing and feed production. Raising farm animals for human consumption consumes exorbitant amounts of cereals. Over 97% of global soymeal produced is fed farm animals, and during the last four decades of the 20th century, over 60% of the corn and barley crops were also fed to these animals.

Yet, the conversion of grains to meat is a highly inefficient process. It takes approximately 7 kilograms of grain to produce one kilogram of beef in developed countries. The ratios for pig meat (1 kg meat/4 kg grain) and poultry meat (1 kg meat/2 kg grain) similarly exemplify this inefficiency.

This inefficient use of resources can be seen in India. Approximately ten percent of India's coarse grain production goes to feed farmed animals, and approximately 50% of all corn consumed is used as animal feed—most of which is for poultry. For 2010-2011, 76% of Indian oil meal is anticipated to go to animal feed.

Carbon emissions

As the single largest anthropogenic user of land and responsible for an estimated 18% of human-induced GHG emissions, the farm animal production sector must be held accountable for its many deleterious impacts, and society must achieve changes in animal agricultural practices worldwide.

Methane's relatively short atmospheric lifetime compared to carbon dioxide (≈10 years86,87,88 vs. ≈100+ years89) means that reducing methane emissions would have a more immediate and significant impact on mitigating climate change than just reducing CO2 emissions. Thus, tremendous opportunity to effectively mitigate climate change in the near term lies in the dairy sector, particularly in India which has the largest combined population of cattle and buffalo in the world with nearly 40 million milk-producing buffalo and cattle, each.