Lower Competition with Human Nutrition

There is a growing concern about the use of grains in animal feeding that could be used to produce food eaten by humans (O'Mara 2012). The degree of competition with human nutrition should be another aspect to consider, in terms of sustainable production, as diets in intensive meat systems are mainly based on cereals. Since much of the energy value is lost during conversion from plant to animal matter, it would be much more efficient for humans to consume cereals directly (GerbensLeenes and Nonhebel 2005). In addition, when considering the efficiency of food production, the quantity of human-edible energy and protein used in animal feed should be used rather than gross energy efficiency or protein intake/output ratios (Oltjen and Beckett 1996). Although beef production systems are considerably less efficient than monogastric livestock systems in terms of total energy consumed, recalculating efficiencies of energy and protein production on the basis of humanedible food produced per unit of human-edible feed consumed gave higher efficiencies for ruminants than for monogastric animals (Gill et al. 2009). A low degree of competition with humans was found for Podolian beef production (Napolitano et al. 2005). These animals are able to convert vast renewable resources from grassland, pasture and by-products into food edible for humans. The calculation of human-edible returns should be performed using only gross energy (GE) and crude protein (CP) inputs derived from human-edible foods (Napolitano et al. 2005) and used in the different stages of the Podolian farming system (i.e. cow pregnancy, suckling and weaning of calves and fattening phase).

Animal Health and Welfare

A sustainable animal production system should pursue long-lasting economically competitive activities enabling to minimize any negative effects to the animals, the people, the environment and the community (McGlone and Sutherland 2007). It is obvious that some of these aims are contrasting. For instance, an environmental sustainable farming system should minimize methane emissions by increasing the efficiency of transformation of dietary energy into human-edible products. This approach intends to reduce the amount of fibrous feeds in ruminant feeding while introducing more selected and efficient breeds (FAO 2006). Both strategies may have adverse effects at animal welfare level. The lack of fibre in ruminant nutrition leads to increased levels of disease and abnormal behavioural expressions, such as stereotypies (Fraser 2008). In addition, when native cattle breeds, such as Podolian, are outdoors, they are able to express most of their most relevant natural behaviours, albeit ingesting poor-quality forages while grazing on natural pastures (Braghieri et al. 2011a, b). The substitution of local native breeds with more selected animals may also represent a hazard to animal welfare as these animals are often more susceptible to infectious and production diseases (e.g. Ameni et al. 2007) with potentially higher levels of pharmaceuticals involved in the production process.

Napolitano et al. (2010) report that information about animal welfare is an important determinant of consumer willingness to pay (WTP) for various animalbased products. In addition, many producers certify their products with labels (e.g. Animal Welfare Approved, Humane Farm Animal Care, Neuland, Beter Leven) ensuring high standard for farm animal welfare along all the supply chain and receiving a financial reward for that. The indirect market valuation of this noncommodity output could be either performed assessing consumer WTP (de Groot et al. 2002) or evaluating the premium price for animal welfare-friendly products. In addition, the money saved could be quantified as a result of the reduction in veterinary interventions and therapy treatments.

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