Description of typical situation

Industrial livestock production systems are characterized by their relatively large scale, a high level of specialization, limited direct land use, reliance on off-farm production of feeds and other inputs, and use of high-productivity breeds. Pig and poultry are the predominant species found in these systems, but dairy and beef may also be produced in such settings. Industrial livestock production systems are found all over the world, although mostly in middle- to high-income countries, where their development took place in response to high demand, well-developed infrastructure (making transport and processing of inputs and outputs feasible), and a relative scarcity of land.

Industrial systems are also the most rapidly growing form of animal production, accounting for more than 60% of the world’s pork production and more than 85% of the world’s poultry meat production. Regarding pork, the major production regions are East and Southeast Asia, Western Europe, and the United States. China alone produces almost half of the world’s pork.

Industrial pig and poultry production systems evolved from more circular forms of production, such as backyard systems where livestock scavenged for feed, or feed was supplemented with kitchen wastes and locally available food processing residues. Scaling up of such backyard systems, driven by demand for meat products and/or pressure on land, is often not a gradual process: When the number of pigs or poultry on a farm or in a geographical location increases strongly, feeds need to be sourced externally, housing is required to control the production environment and avoid predation, livestock health becomes an issue because of the high concentration of animals, and the local community may complain because of odor, water, and air pollution, and animal welfare perceptions. This result in the need for sophisticated buildings and equipment, thus in higher production costs, which are generally offset by strong economies of scale. Consequently, pig and poultry production is generally found either as backyard systems or as medium- to large-scale industrial systems without much space for intermediary systems. In most low- to middle-income countries, backyard pig and poultry production is an important contributor to monogastric meat production. For example, backyard systems contribute about one-third to China’s pork production and are the major supplier of pork to Vietnam.


Common environmental issues

Farms with these systems often have large nutrient surpluses because of the high nutrient imports through feed and the limited land available for the application of the nutrients in manure. Discharge and involuntary losses of nitrogen and phosphorus may occur and cause pollution of soil, water, and air, with repercussions on biodiversity, climate, and human health. This issue is exacerbated when production units are geographically concentrated, overshooting the recycling opportunities of neighboring lands. The concentration of animal production in and/or in the vicinity of densely populated areas also raises societal resistance related to odor, transport movements, animal welfare, noise, landscape aesthetics, and local pollution. High manure transport cost is a key constraint to viable land/livestock balances. One the one hand, large production units have larger surpluses than medium-scale units which increase the risk for environmental pollution. However, large operations generally have better access to technology and finance, and can also tap into economies of scales to develop manure processing and treatment approaches that are out of reach on medium-scale operations (Principle 5).

Globally, pigs and poultry account for about 9% and 8% respectively of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions associated with livestock. This contribution is mainly through emissions associated with feed (60%) and manure storage and processing (27%). Consumption of fossil fuel is the highest for this context, taking place along the entire supply chain, e.g., fertilizer production, transport, machinery, animal houses, and cooling (Principles 5 and 6).

Feeding animals with high-quality feed is the norm in these industrial systems. Although crop residues, agro-industry byproducts, and household waste also contribute to the ration, these systems highly rely on products such as maize, soy, wheat, and barley grown on arable land suited for food crops. The resulting pressure on land and water, land use change, and biodiversity losses tendentially caused by feed production are important issues associated with industrial pig and poultry production in this context (Principle 4).