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Agriculture Today


Brazil takes center stage for the three B’s — babes, beef, (re)birth of Agenda 21


Brazil takes center stage for the three B’s  — babes, beef, (re)birth of Agenda 21


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Wilson County News
June 6, 2012
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Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, is easily associated with bikini-clad girls, music with a Latin beat, and exotic sun-drenched vacations. What could this exotic location have to do with cattle production, greenhouse-gas legislation, or feedlots? With world leaders set to converge on Rio June 20-22, the answer to that question could be: A lot!

Rio+20, a United Nations conference on sustainable development, could impact the agricultural industry -- particularly factory farms, also known as concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) -- in a big way. The conference convenes 20 years after a similar one in 1992 in Rio, when Agenda 21 was agreed to by 179 heads of state, including George H.W. Bush. Agenda 21, a non-binding “soft law,” could become a treaty supporting sustainable development. (See related article, page 1A). The impact could include greenhouse-gas legislation, such as Cap and Trade, and more. The effects could ripple out to impact everything from large animal feeding operations to family farms. With legislation could come increased prices for foods and agricultural products.

Hot air?

According to a March 23 Worldwatch Institute report, “State of the World 2012,” CAFOs are the most rapidly growing method of farm animal production, with the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization estimating that 80 percent of growth in the livestock sector now comes from these industrial production systems.

According to the report, “CAFOs now account for 72 percent of poultry production, 43 percent of egg production, and 55 percent of pork production worldwide.”

The same report states that an estimated 18 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions are linked to CAFOs. This report also cites that CAFOs contribute 9 percent of the carbon dioxide, almost 40 percent of the methane, and 65 percent of the nitrous oxide to the environment -- all gases currently being monitored by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

According to the March 23 release, CAFOs also contribute to:

•The rise of extinction of 21 percent of the world’s livestock breeds, according to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization report: “Because CAFOs rely on a narrow range of commercial breeds selected for their high productivity and low input needs, less-popular indigenous livestock breeds are rapidly falling out of use.”

•Cattle enterprises (livestock production) being responsible for 65 to 80 percent of the deforestation of the Amazon. Due to the increased production, large swaths of forest and other land to grow animal feed crops like maize and soybean are being noted within the country.

Sustainability

Danielle Nierenberg, Worldwatch Institute senior researcher and Nourishing the Plant project director, will attend the Rio conference. She addressed the study released May 24. Nierenberg said she is not promoting Agenda 21; instead, she is organizing efforts for environmental sustainability.

She has conducted research in Africa for the past two years and spoke briefly of African farming practices and CAFOs, and sustainable methods that will not damage the environment for generations to come.

“The lessons learned from the smaller system in Africa can be transferred to medium and large operations in the United States,” Nierenberg said.

Unsustainable methods -- the use of cheap fossil fuel for diesel and fertilizer, the overuse of herbicides, and monoculture -- all aid in the creation of the perfect environment for pests or diseases, leading to the destruction of crops, Nierenberg said.

“At what expense to the next generation?” she asked.

Regarding CAFOs, Nierenberg is concerned for animal welfare; the environment, including the devaluation of property adjacent to feedlots; adequate safety and fair wages for the workers; sanitary conditions; and the humane treatment/slaughter of animals.

In the March 23 Worldwatch Institute press release, Nierenberg stated, “The demand for meat, eggs, and dairy products in developing countries has increased at a staggering rate in recent decades. ... Farm-animal production provides a safety net for millions of the world’s most vulnerable people. But given the industry’s rapid and often poorly regulated growth, the biggest challenge in the coming decades will be to produce meat and other animal products in environmentally and socially sustainable ways.”

By the end of June, Rio could become the exotic location where Agenda 21 changed status from non-binding soft law to binding international treaty. If it becomes a treaty, it won’t be a case of if greenhouse-gas and sustainable development legislation is enacted, such as the infamous “cattle gas tax.” It will be a case of when.
 

Your Opinions and Comments

 
William J. Gibbs Jr.  
WCN  
June 14, 2012 11:23am
 
More about the Rio conference: "Diplomats at the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Conference in Rio de Janeiro next week will consider proposals that would levy taxes on American families and energy industries ... More ›

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