ROME – A new Foreign Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO)-led partnership is tasked with improving how the environmental impacts of the livestock industry are measured and assessed.

As the global consumption of meat, dairy products and eggs continues increasing, more attention is being given to the livestock sector's environmental performance, such as the efficiency with which it uses natural resources, its impact on water resources and how it contributes to climate change.

World governments agreed to make agricultural production more sustainable and stressed the need to shift to more sustainable livestock production systems, during the recently held Rio+20 sustainable development conference. Many different methods are currently being used to measure and assess the environmental impacts of animal raising, making it difficult to compare results and set priorities for the continuous improvement of environmental performance along supply chains.

"We must establish a shared understanding of how to assess the environmental performance of the livestock sector," said Pierre Gerber, a senior FAO livestock policy officer. "The goal is to improve that performance, and create more sustainable forms of production that will continue to provide food and income. To do that, we need reliable quantitative information on key environmental parameters along livestock supply chains, as an evidence base from which to drive improvements."

FAO and governmental, private-sector and nongovernmental partners will work together in a number of areas to strengthen the science of environmental benchmarking of livestock supply chains. Activities planned for the initial three-year phase of the project include:

• Establishing science-based methods and guidelines on how to quantify livestock's carbon footprint, covering various types of livestock operations and rearing systems.
• Creating a database of greenhouse gas emission factors generated for producing different kinds of animal feed – feed production and use offer significant opportunities for reducing livestock emissions.
• Developing a method for measuring other important environmental pressures, such as water consumption and nutrient losses.
• Initiating a communications campaign to promote use of the partnership's methods and findings.

Founding members of the partnership include the governments of France, Ireland, the Netherlands and New Zealand, The European Feed Manufacturers' Federation, the European Vegetable Oil and Proteinmeal Industry, the International Dairy Federation, the International Meat Secretariat, the International Egg Commission the International Poultry Council, the International Federation for Animal Health and the World Wildlife Fund. This core membership is expected to increase during the coming months. The partnership Secretariat is based at FAO.

Demand for livestock products will continue to intensify over the decades to come, FAO estimates. Meat consumption is projected to increase nearly 73 percent by 2050, while dairy consumption will grow 58 percent over current levels.

"This continued growth in demand will be occurring within the context of increasing competition for finite and sometimes dwindling natural resources, additional challenges posed by climate change, and the imperative of making food production much more sustainable," said Henning Steinfeld, chief of FAO's Livestock Information, Sector Analysis and Policy Branch. "We need to safeguard this important food sector. Improving the efficiency of its use of natural resources and bettering its performance in terms of sustainability is key."