Ensuring Sustainable and Responsible Production of Healthy Food from Healthy Animals

  • Eisler, Mark C (Principal Investigator)
  • Miller, Helen (Co-Investigator)
  • Sankaran, Mahesh (Co-Investigator)
  • Greathead, Henry (Co-Investigator)
  • Martin, Graeme (Co-Investigator)
  • Liu, Jian (Co-Investigator)
  • Ramkumar, Srikumar (Co-Investigator)
  • Murray, Philip (Co-Investigator)

Project Details

Description

A recent UK Government Report ‘The Future of Food and Farming’ (2011) highlighted in key conclusions for policy makers that global population is predicted to surpass nine billion by 2050, putting intense pressure on the global food system, including competition for land, water and energy. Continuing globalisation and imperatives to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to the uncertainties of a changing climate while maintaining biodiversity and ecosystem services, will expose the food system to novel economic and political pressures, including demand for a more varied, high-quality diet from a burgeoning wealthier sector of society.
Livestock products comprise an important component of human diet, and their production is likely to continue for the foreseeable future as the only practical option on a large proportion of the world’s agricultural land, especially seasonal or permanent pasture suitable only for grazing. While meat consumption varies globally from over 120kg per capita year in the USA to just 3kg per capita year in India, protein malnutrition (kwashiorkor) is a common problem in developing countries, especially in South Asia, causing stunted growth and threatens to increase unless food production keeps apace with global population growth. Meat and dairy products are excellent sources of first class protein, containing all essential amino acids, although excessive consumption is linked to a number of health problems, such as heart disease and cancer.
Our objective is to research ‘future farming’ systems, sustainable and responsible production of healthy food from healthy animals, supporting a vision where people in all regions can enjoy the benefits of appropriately moderate consumption of high quality animal products with net health benefit. These integrated farming systems consider nutrient cycling so that animal waste products are used to the maximum potential, minimising both greenhouse gas emission and use of artificial fertilisers. The research considers not only livestock rearing per se, but also mixed crop--‐livestock systems in which human inedible crop residues such as cereal crop straws or stovers, sugar cane, grain sorghum, soybean and vegetables may be fed to livestock, themselves producing manure for fertilizing crops. Optimisation of livestock feeds will focus on pasture utilization of polyphenol oxidase--‐containing red clover (Trifolium pretense), which as well as fixing nitrogen has the potential to increase levels of N-3 (omega‐3) fatty acids in meat of grazing animals with resultant health benefit to both animal and consumer. Similar effects may be obtained by addition of plant extract supplements such as Echium oil to cattle feed.
Another aspect of this programme focuses on ‘One Health’, i.e. interactions among human, animal and ecosystem health. Improved nutrition of livestock may lead to direct health benefit for animals, improving their welfare, and also indirectly to benefit for consumers. Dairy cattle in intensive production systems, commonly suffer from metabolic diseases with underlying nutritional aetiology, conditions which predispose animals to infectious disease and a wider range of ailments, including infertility, lameness and welfare problems. The majority of human infectious diseases have their origins in animals, and many important
zoonotic diseases in livestock not only adversely affect productivity and welfare, but may also be transmitted to man either directly or via animal products and the environment. Sustainable future farming systems must mitigate against risks such as avian influenza, Q‐fever, E-Coli O157, bovine tuberculosis, and various helminthiasies.
In an influential report to DEFRA, John McInerney described the relationship between levels of livestock productivity, with respect to human benefit, and welfare levels, and to animal benefit, and suggested that excessive intensification is to the detriment of both. This concept can be extended to the relationships between levels of intensification and health and between intensification and food quality. Many zoonotic infections are exacerbated by intensification which therefore has implications in the 'One Health' context, while food quality of animal products, in terms of both nutritional value and palatability, may be improved in appropriately grazed rather than intensively reared, cereal‐fed animals.
The programme we are proposing aims to capture these effects in a ‘systems framework’ that considers food‐producing animals in the broader context of their grazing environment and the wider agricultural setting, including ecosystem services such as water and waste management.

The programme will benefit from three unique and visionary research farms. Rothamsted Research’s North Wyke Farm Platform is a globally unique facility with a range of in situ instrumentation in hydrologically isolated fields and farmlets to research key issues in sustainable beef and sheep production. Future Farm 2050, is a multidisciplinary project based on a 1600--‐hectare farm near Pingelly, Western Australia with the mission to develop a profitable mixed--‐enterprise operation at the cutting edge of practical technology for cropping, animal, environmental footprint, and ecosystem and biodiversity management. Finally, at an earlier stage of its development and with possibilities for exchange and collaboration, Thiruvazhankunnu Farm (Silent Valley) in Kerala, owned and operated by KVASU has emphasis on the effects of climate change on animal production. By comparison and contrast of these three farm platforms in disparate locations and ecosystems, the researchers will begin to compile a global assemblage of data, analyses and ideas that will inform best practice for ensuring sustainable and responsible production of healthy food from healthy animals.
StatusFinished
Effective start/end date1/01/1331/12/13

Structured keywords

  • WUNhealth
  • WUNclimate
  • Cabot Institute Food Security Research

Research Output

  • 3 Article (Academic Journal)
  • 1 Editorial (Academic Journal)

Steps to sustainable livestock: With improved breeding and cultivation, ruminant animals can yield food that is better for people and the planet

Eisler, M. C., Lee, M. RF., Tarlton, J. F., Martin, G., Beddington, J., Dungait, J. A. J., Greathead, H., Liu, J-X., Matthew, S., MIller, H., Misselbrook, T., Murray, P., van Saun, R., Vinod, VK. & Winter, M., 6 Mar 2014, In : Nature. 507, 7490, p. 32-34 3 p.

Research output: Contribution to journalEditorial (Academic Journal)

122 Citations (Scopus)

Ewe lambs with higher breeding values for growth achieve higher reproductive performance when mated at age 8 months

Nieto, C. A. R., Ferguson, M. B., Macleay, C. A., Briegel, J. R., Wood, D. A., Martin, G. B. & Thompson, A. N., 15 Sep 2013, In : Theriogenology. 80, 5, p. 427-435 9 p.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)

21 Citations (Scopus)

Interrelationships of nutrition, metabolic hormones and resumption of ovulation in multiparous suckled beef cows on subtropical pastures

Samadi, F., Phillips, N. J., Blache, D., Martin, G. B. & D'Occhio, M. J., Mar 2013, In : Animal Reproduction Science. 137, 3-4, p. 137-144 8 p.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)

21 Citations (Scopus)

Activities

  • 2 Participation in workshop, seminar, course

Global Sustainable Farming Systems Workshop

John F Tarlton (Participant)

28 May 201329 May 2013

Activity: Participating in or organising an event typesParticipation in workshop, seminar, course

Global Sustainable Farming Systems Workshop

Jian Liu (Participant)

28 May 201329 May 2013

Activity: Participating in or organising an event typesParticipation in workshop, seminar, course