US scientists review opportunities to close nutrient cycles for animal production

A team of US scientists says “we need to transform conventional animal and plant food production, but this is impossible unless we first transform how we see ourselves, our relationship with one another and the environments we inhabit.” The researchers’ literature review is published in the animal biosciences journal, Animal.

They say that over the next 10–30 years, major policy changes will likely occur in food systems of developed nations, as consumers, industry, and policymakers become more aware of the challenges and changes needed for sustainable food systems.

Agricultural systems will have to conserve and better recycle nutrients, use external inputs more sparingly, and reduce pollution of air, water, and land.

They say that regenerative agricultural practices will need to expand rapidly to improve soil health and fertility, and improve efficiency of nutrient use in order to meet the grand challenges of feeding an estimated 10 billion people by mid-century in a sustainable manner.

The scientists write of the “urgent and complex challenge to produce large amounts of healthful animal and plant foods for an estimated 10 billion people by 2050 while maintaining essential ecosystem services. To compound this challenge, we must do so while not further degrading our environment and conserving essential nutrients such as copper, magnesium, phosphorus, selenium, and zinc that are in short supply for fertilization.

“Much good research has been done, but to meet this challenge, we need to greatly increase on-farm and watershed-scale research including on-farm evaluations and demonstrations of the putative best combinations of stewardship techniques over multiple years in real-world settings, which are backed by data on nutrient inputs, soil, air, and water chemistry (fluxes) and water discharge.

“We also need to work with farmers, specialists, and generalists in highly creative interdisciplinary teams that resist forming silos and that use combinations of techniques linked to agroecology and industrial ecology in combination with state-of-the-art engineering.”

In conclusion, they say that “We face significant pollution and environmental degradation problems associated with the intensive production of food-producing animals, and we are not currently dealing with these problems effectively.

We need to open our minds to new ideas and expand our knowledge and collaboration to improve our understanding of what we need to change in order to produce animal-based foods with fewer negative impacts on the environment.

The full article and literature review can be found here

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