Animal sourced protein will remain a major protein source for the majority of the world’s population. Indeed, the growth predictions for animal sourced protein demand by emerging economies is significant. The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) predicts the demand for livestock products will escalate over the next 30 years, to meet the needs of a global population of 9B by 20501. By 2050, emerging economies are predicted to consume 326 million metric tons (mmt) of meat and 585 mmt of milk, being far greater than for developed economies (126 mmt of meat and 296 mmt of milk, respectively).
Furthermore, livestock breeding is faced with rapidly changing environmental conditions brought on by climate change and salination. Urban expansion is reducing available farming land and societal issues around animal welfare and minimising communicable diseases and greenhouse gas emissions are changing the way that livestock are managed.
Never before has there been a need for adoption of technologies that enable rapid genetic improvement to counter these challenges. Adaptive changes in livestock phenotypes will be met with application of genetic selection based on genotyping, now available at an affordable cost and accuracy, in conjunction with advanced reproductive technologies that capture both female and male genetics, through nucleus breeding herds focussed on particular desirable traits. Generation of new phenotypes not currently available can be met by gene editing technologies, such as CRISPR and TALENS, but societal and therefore commercial acceptability of such animals is a continuing challenge.
Finally, production of “meat” in a ‘petri-dish’ has been demonstrated. It offers an alternative approach with little to no environmental or welfare issues, but is likely to remain a niche product even if made affordable in the future, and has yet to be tested for societal acceptance.
1Nellerman et al. United Nations Environment Programme, GRID-Arendal, www.grida.no