Is There a Future for Cattle Farming?

Is There a Future for Cattle Farming?

Clive J. C. Phillips (University of Queensland, Australia) and Matti Wilks (University of Queensland, Australia)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-7350-0.ch013

Abstract

Humans have relied on cattle for production of food and work, as a source of capital, for dung, for fuel, building, and many other uses, for a period of about 10000 years. As a result, cattle biomass is now approximately twice that of humans on the planet. However, in the face of diminishing natural resources for the expanding human population and evidence of livestock pollution, cattle farms are currently criticized widely for their inefficient use of resources, the poor cattle welfare in modern farming systems, and their impact on human health amongst other problems. This chapter explores the reasons why cattle farming may ultimately cease in response to these issues. The replacement of cattle on farms began in the industrial revolution, when traction engines superseded many cattle in field operations. However, the replacement of cattle as food products is only now beginning to accelerate. The acceptability of alternative milks is growing rapidly and that of alternatives to meat products is also increasing. However, the major advance in replacing bovine meat products is under development in the laboratory as cultured meat, grown from a biopsied muscle sample on an edible scaffold in a nutrient media. Significant investment has been made in the process, which is technically feasible but is currently too expensive. This chapter explores current concerns about cattle farming as well as current difficulties in the development of meat alternatives, such as plant-based and clean meat. Through this exploration, the authors examine the potential for cattle farming to survive in the wake of alternatives offered by advanced food technology. Given anticipated success in bringing suitable alternative products to the market, most of the functions of cattle in developed countries are likely to be replaced. The process in developing countries will be much slower. Nonetheless, the authors anticipate that ultimately—perhaps in the far future—food technology developments will end the reliance on traditional cattle farming practices.
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Concerns About Cattle Production Today

The main concerns about cattle production today include the scale and intensity of the farming operations, their use of natural resources, in particular land, water and energy, pollution from the farms, the use of ingredients in their diet that could be fed to humans, their welfare, the ethics of slaughtering unwanted animals and their impact on human health. They are addressed in turn below.

Concerns Over Scale and Intensity

The concerns about cattle production today are focused on the growth of intensive systems and the increase in the scale of output as a result of growing demand in developing countries. Most of the growth in production systems is in the developing countries themselves in their attempt to become self-sufficient. In the face of growing world population, food security has assumed a new importance. Growing trade in cattle and their products is also possible with the ease of worldwide international trade over the last two decades and the expansion in road and rail freight and shipping opportunities. Many developing countries foresee the looming food shortages that are predicted as an opportunity to develop a lucrative business based on intensive cattle production (Tilman & Clark, 2014).

Key Terms in this Chapter

Meat: The flesh of an animal or plant which can be consumed as solid food.

Clean Meat/Cultured Meat/Lab-Grown Meat: Meat grown in-vitro from animal cells; it requires less resources and produces less pollution compared to livestock-based meat.

Resource Use: Exploitation of the natural and social capital of the planet; some resources are finite and can be exhausted through continued use while others are renewable, and their reserves can be replenished.

Plant-Based Meat: A food alternative to animal meat which resembles it but is produced from plants.

Cattle: Large ruminant animals domesticated mainly for meat and milk; the female animals are called cows and the male animals are called bulls; they are held as property or raised for use, including slaughter for the production of meat.

Ruminant: A herbivore mammal which has a specialized stomach (called rumen) prior to digestion where the plant-based food is fermented through microbial actions; the origin of the word is from Latin and means chewing again.

Meat Alternatives (or Alternatives to Meat): Food products based on plants and lab-grown in-vitro meat (the latter is also described as clean or cultured meat); these products can also be described as meat analogues or meat substitutes.

Cattle Farming: A type of agriculture which is focused on the commercial production of cow milk and beef and veal meat.

Sustainable: Able of enduring and lasting for a long time by causing little or no damage to the natural environment whilst providing good livelihood and economic opportunities for people.

Animal Welfare: The wellbeing of animals, particularly farm and domestic animals as well as animals kept in zoos; countries have different understanding and consequently different standards about what is considered good living conditions for animals; the concept is based on the understanding that animals are sentient beings.

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