Ambio, Vol. 36, page(s): 622-629
This paper provides an original account of global land, water and nitrogen use in support of industrialized livestock production and trade, with emphasis on two of the fastest growing sectors, pork and poultry. Our analysis focuses on trade in feed and animal products, using a new model that calculates the amount of "virtual" nitrogen, water and land used in production but not embedded in the product. We show how key meat importing countries, such as Japan, benefit from "virtual" trade in land, water and nitrogen, and how key meat exporting countries, such as Brazil, provide these resources without accounting for their true environmental cost. Results show that Japan's pig and chicken meat imports embody the virtual equivalent of 50% of Japan's total arable land, and half of Japan's virtual nitrogen total is lost in the US. Trade links with China are responsible for 15% of the virtual nitrogen left behind in Brazil due to feed and meat exports, and 20% of Brazil's area is used to grow soybean exports. The complexity of trade in meat, feed, water and nitrogen, is illustrated by the dual roles of the US and the Netherlands as both importers and exporters of meat. Mitigating environmental damage from industrialized livestock production and trade depends on a combination of direct pricing strategies, regulatory approaches and use of best management practices. Our analysis indicates that increased water and nitrogen use efficiency and land conservation resulting from these measures could significantly reduce resource costs.