ROME – The rapidly growing world population will be consuming two-thirds more animal protein by 2050 than it does today, according to a new Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) study titled World Livestock 2011, which was recently published. Fueling an ongoing trend toward greater per capita consumption of animal protein in developing countries are population and income growth the study relays.

By 2050, meat consumption is projected to increase almost 73 percent; dairy consumption is predicted to grow 58 percent. A lot of the future demand for livestock production, particularly in the world's largest cities where population growth is occurring the most, will be satisfied by large-scale, intensive animal-rearing operations.

"As it stands, there are no technically or economically viable alternatives to intensive production for providing the bulk of the livestock food supply for growing cities," FAO's report states.

Such systems, however, are a concern because of potential environmental impacts, such as groundwater pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, as well as their potential to act as incubators of diseases, the study warns. “An urgent challenge is to make intensive production more environmentally benign," the study states.

There are three ways to accomplish this, FAO relays: reduce the pollution level generated from waste and greenhouse gases; cut the water and grain input needed for each output of livestock protein; and recycle agro-industrial by-products through livestock populations.

"It is hard to envisage meeting projected demand by keeping twice as many poultry, 80 percent more small ruminants, 50 percent more cattle and 40 percent more pigs, using the same level of natural resources as currently," World Livestock 2011 pointed out.

Production increases must come from improving livestock systems efficiencies in converting natural resources into food and reducing waste. Handling these increases will require capital investment and a supporting policy and regulatory environment.

Other challenges must be confronted, including drought, water shortages and other climate-related impacts – as well as the threat of animal diseases, some which may directly threaten human health – all of which must be carefully managed as livestock production increases.

Intensive systems, and those that encroach upon forest environments or peri-urban areas without proper hygiene, are a fertile ground for new diseases — and many of them are managed in ways that are detrimental to animal health and welfare, according to the study.

Global production of poultry meat increased by approximately 700 percent since 1967,. Other products saw surges in production as well, including eggs, which registered a 350 percent increase, pig meat, 290 percent; sheep and goat meat, 200 percent; beef and buffalo meat, 180 percent; and milk, 180 percent.

Currently, livestock products supply 12.9 percent of calories consumed worldwide — 20.3 percent in developed countries. Their contribution to protein consumption is estimated at 27.9 percent worldwide and 47.8 percent in developed countries. Production has expanded rapidly in East and Southeast Asia and in Latin America and the Caribbean, but growth in sub-Saharan Africa has been slow

The average consumption of livestock protein in Africa is less than one-quarter of that in the Americas, Europe and Oceania, and represents just 17 percent of the recommended consumption level for all proteins, FAO's study stated. "By contrast, the consumption of livestock protein in the Americas, Europe and Oceania in 2005 was between 78 and 98 percent of the total protein requirement, suggesting that livestock products are being over-consumed," it added.

Livestock and livestock products in the developing world, however, can make a major contribution to household economic and food security plus nutrition. Even small amounts of animal protein can improve the nutritional status of low-income households.