Animal production and the science that informs it are confronted by an emerging and globally complex set of conditions in the 21st century that generate new challenges for sustainable animal production, which in turn requires rethinking about the overall nature of animal science. These challenges include, but are not limited to, growing demand for animal products by an increasingly affluent, global population approaching 10 billion people; the globalization of food systems that cross continents with consequences for individual country and regional concerns about food security; the intensification of production systems in the context of societal and environmental impacts; the development and maintenance of sustainable animal production systems in the face of global environmental change; and the multidecadal stagnation in research funding for animal production. As described throughout this report, a new roadmap for animal science research is required. The findings and recommendations described below will help to inform this new roadmap.
The breadth of the committee’s task led to many recommendations being developed. The committee twice deliberated on prioritization of these recommendations. Early in the process the committee chose a limited number of broad and high-level overarching recommendations, which were then refined in subsequent meetings and are described immediately below. At its last meeting, the committee chose its highest priorities from among all of the possible recommendations. These recommendations appear after the overarching recommendations and are specific to what the committee identified as key areas in animal agriculture in both the United States and globally. In addition to its recommendations, the committee identified complementary priorities for research, research support, and infrastructure, which can be found in Chapters 3-5.
Ideally, NRC committee recommendations should include an action statement specifying the specific agency or organization that should follow up. This works well if there is an individual sponsor with a single short-term task; however, the breadth of the tasks and the multiplicity of overlapping national and international public and private organizations involved in sponsoring or performing animal research limited the committee’s ability to specify action pathways. Sorting out responsibilities for moving ahead is part of the reason that the committee has recommended the development of a U.S. Animal Science Strategic Plan under the leadership of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).
Two central issues have guided National Research Council and other reports regarding the setting of research agendas for animal agriculture in recent years: productivity and sustainability. The committee built on these reports and emphasized the importance of research to sustainably and efficiently increase animal agricultural productivity. The committee’s deliberations resulted in the following overarching recommendations:
- To achieve food security, research efforts should be improved through funding efforts that instill integration rather than independence of the individual components of the entire food chain. Success can only be achieved through strong, overarching, and inter- and transdisciplinary research collaborations involving both the public and private sectors. Animal science research should move toward a systems approach that emphasizes efficiency and quality of production to meet food security needs. The recently created Foundation for Food and Agricultural Research (FFAR) needs to incorporate holistic approaches to animal productivity and sustainability (Chapter 5).
- Continuing the research emphasis on improving animal productivity is necessary; however, concomitant research on the economic, environmental, and social sustainability nexuses of animal production systems should also be enhanced. Both public and private funding agencies should incorporate inter- and transdisciplinary approaches for research on animal productivity and sustainability (Chapters 3 and 5).
- There is a need to revitalize research infrastructure (human and physical resources), for example, through a series of strategic planning approaches, developing effective partnerships, and enhancing efficiency. In the United States, the committee recommends that USDA and the newly created FFAR spearhead the formation of a coalition to develop a U.S. Animal Science Strategic Plan or Roadmap for capacity building and infrastructure from 2014 to 2050. The coalition should be broad based and include representation from relevant federal agencies; colleges and universities that are involved in research, teaching, and outreach activities with food animals; NGOs; the private sector; and other relevant stakeholders. Areas of focus should include assessment of resource needs (human and physical infrastructure) to support the current and emerging animal science research enterprise; strategies to increase support for research, outreach, and instructional needs via formula funding, competitive funding, and public-private partnerships; curriculum development and delivery; evaluation of factors affecting hiring, retention, and diversity in the animal sciences; and mechanisms for research, priority setting to meet emerging, local, regional, national, and global needs (Chapter 5).
- Socioeconomic/cultural research is essential to guide and inform animal scientists and decision makers on appropriately useful and applicable animal science research as well as communication and engagement strategies to deal with these extensive challenges. Engagement of social scientists and researchers from other relevant disciplines should be a prerequisite as appropriate for integrated animal science research projects, such as National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) Coordinated Agricultural Project grants, to secure funding and approval of such projects (Chapters 3 and 5).
- For research in sustainable intensification of animal agriculture to meet the challenge of future animal protein needs, it is necessary to effectively close the existing broad communication gap between the public, researchers, and the food industries. This will require research to better understand the knowledge, opinions, and values of the public and food system stakeholders, as well as the development of effective and mutually respectful communication strategies that foster ongoing stakeholder engagement. A coalition representing universities, federal agencies, industry, and the public should be formed to focus on communications research with the goals of enhancing engagement, knowledge dissemination, stakeholder
participation, and informed decision making. Communications programs within agriculture schools, or in collaboration with other university components, such as schools of public health, could conduct this type of research (Chapters 3 and 5).
- The United States should expand its involvement in research that assists in the development of internationally harmonized standards, guidelines, and regulations related to both the trade in animal products and protection of the consumers of those products (Chapter 4).
Many of the recommendations and priorities discussed in each of the chapters are based on a central theme of the need for strategic planning to meet the challenges of the increased animal agricultural demand that is projected through 2050. These recommendations and priorities include planning for research in the United States and in developing countries and reconsideration of education and training in animal agriculture in the United States, particularly at the university level. These strategic planning activities should be guided by the need for systems approaches that integrate the many scientific disciplines and governmental and nongovernmental stakeholders involved in achieving the goal of food security based on sustainable animal agriculture.
Recommendations for U.S. Animal Agriculture
The committee developed several recommendations that are of high priority for reinvigorating the field of animal agriculture in the United States.
In view of the anticipated continuing increased demand for animal protein, growth in U.S. research related to animal agricultural productivity is imperative. Animal protein products contribute over $43 billion annually to the U.S. agricultural trade balance. Animal agriculture accounts for 60 to 70 percent of the total agricultural economy. In the past two decades, public funding, including formula funding and USDA Agricultural Research Service/National Institute of Food and Agriculture funding, of animal science research has been stagnant in terms of real dollars and has declined in relation to the research inflation rate. A 50 percent decline in the rate of increase in U.S. agricultural productivity is predicted if overall agricultural funding increases in normative dollars continue at the current rate, which is less than the expected rate of
inflation of research costs. If funding does meet the rate of research cost inflation, however, a 73 percent increase in overall agricultural productivity between now and 2050 is projected and a 1 percent increase in inflation-adjusted spending is projected to lead to an 83 percent increase.
Despite documenting the clear economic and scientific value of animal science research in the United States, funding to support the infrastructure and capacity is evidently insufficient to meet the needs for animal food; U.S.-based research will be needed to address sustainability issues and to help developing countries sustainably increase their own animal protein production and/or needs. Additionally, animal science research and practices in the United States are often adopted, to the extent possible, within developing countries. Thus, increases in U.S. funding will favorably impact animal production enterprises in developing countries.
With the lack of increase in public funding of animal science research, private/industry support has increased. The focus of industry funding is more toward applied areas that can be commercialized in the short term. Many of these applications are built on concepts developed from publicly funded basic research. With the increased animal protein demands, especially poultry, more publicly funded basic research is needed.
RECOMMENDATION 3-1: To meet current and future animal protein demand, and to sustain corresponding infrastructure and capacity, public support for animal science research (especially basic research) should be restored to at least past levels of real dollars and maintained at a rate that meets or exceeds the annual rate of research inflation. This is especially critical for those species (i.e., poultry) for which the consumer demand is projected to significantly increase by 2050 and for those species with the greatest opportunity for reducing the environmental impact of animal agriculture (Section 3-1 in Chapter 3).
Productivity and Production Efficiency
Regarding productivity and production efficiency, the committee finds that increasing production efficiency while reducing the environmental footprint and cost per unit of animal protein product is
essential to achieving a sustainable, affordable, and secure animal protein supply. Technological improvements have led to system/structural changes in animal production industries whereby more efficient food production and less regional, national, and global environmental impact have been realized.
RECOMMENDATION 3-2: Support of technology development and adoption should continue by both public and private sectors. Three criteria of sustainability—(1) reducing the environmental footprint, (2) reducing the financial cost per unit of animal protein produced, and (3) enhancing societal determinants of sustainable global animal agriculture acceptability—should be used to guide funding decisions about animal agricultural research and technological development to increase production efficiency (Section 3-2 in Chapter 3).
Breeding and Genetic Technologies
Further development and adoption of breeding technologies and genetics, which have been the major contributors to past increases in animal productivity, efficiency, product quality, environmental, and economic advancements, are needed to meet future demand.
RECOMMENDATION 3-3: Research should be conducted to understand societal concerns regarding the adoption of these technologies and the most effective methods to respectfully engage and communicate with the public (Section 3-3 in Chapter 3).
The committee notes that understanding the nutritional requirements of the genetically or ontogenetically changing animal is crucial for optimal productivity, efficiency, and health. Research devoted to an understanding of amino acid, energy, fiber, mineral, and vitamin nutrition has led to technological innovations such as production of individual amino acids to help provide a diet that more closely resembles the animal’s requirements, resulting in improved efficiency, animal health, and environmental gains, as well as lower costs; however, much more can be realized with additional knowledge gained from research.
RECOMMENDATION 3-4: Research should continue to develop a better understanding of nutrient metabolism and utilization in the animal and the effects of those nutrients on gene expression. A systems-based holistic approach needs to be utilized that involves ingredient preparation, understanding of ingredient digestion, nutrient metabolism and utilization through the body, hormonal controls, and regulators of nutrient utilization. Of particular importance is basic and applied research in keeping the knowledge of nutrient requirements of animals current (Section 3-4 in Chapter 3).
Potential waste products from the production of human food, biofuel, or industrial production streams can and are being converted to economical, high-value animal protein products. Alternative feed ingredients are important in completely or partially replacing high-value and unsustainable ingredients, particularly fish meal and fish oil, or ingredients that may otherwise compete directly with human consumption.
RECOMMENDATION 3-6.1: Research should continue to identify alternative feed ingredients that are inedible to humans and will notably reduce the cost of animal protein production while improving the environmental footprint. These investigations should include assessment of the possible impact of changes in the protein product on the health of the animal and the eventual human consumer, as well as the environment (Section 3-6.1 in Chapter 3).
The subtherapeutic use of medically important antibiotics in animal production is being phased out and may be eliminated in the United States. This potential elimination of subtherapeutic use of medically important antibiotics presents a major challenge.
RECOMMENDATION 3-7: There is a need to explore alternatives to the use of medically important subtherapeutic antibiotics while providing the same or greater benefits in improved feed efficiency, disease
Rising concern about animal welfare is a force shaping the future direction of animal agricultural production. Animal welfare research, underemphasized in the United States compared to Europe, has become a high-priority topic. Research capacity in the United States is not commensurate with respect to the level of stakeholder interest in this topic.
RECOMMENDATION 3-8: There is a need to build capacity and direct funding toward the high-priority animal welfare research areas identified by the committee. This research should be focused on current and emerging housing systems, management, and production practices for food animals in the United States. FFAR, USDA-AFRI, and USDA-ARS should carry out an animal welfare research prioritization process that incorporates relevant stakeholders and focuses on identifying key commodity-specific, system-specific, and basic research needs, as well as mechanisms for building capacity for this area of research (Section 3-8 in Chapter 3).
Although there is uncertainty regarding the degree and geographical variability, climate change will nonetheless impact animal agriculture in diverse ways, from affecting feed quality and quantity to causing environmental stress in agricultural animals. Animal agriculture affects and is affected by these changes, in some cases significantly, and must adapt to them in order to provide the quantity and affordability of animal protein expected by society. This adaptation, in turn, has important implications for sustainable production. The committee finds that adaptive strategies will be a critical component of promoting the resilience of U.S. animal agriculture in confronting climate change and variability.
RECOMMENDATION 3-11.2: Research needs to be devoted to the development of geographically appropriate climate change adaptive strategies and their effect on
greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and pollutants involving biogeochemical cycling, such as that of carbon and nitrogen, from animal agriculture because adaptation and mitigation are often interrelated and should not be independently considered. Additional empirical research quantifying GHG emissions sources from animal agriculture should be conducted to fill current knowledge gaps, improve the accuracy of emissions inventories, and be useful for improving and developing mathematical models predicting GHG emissions from animal agriculture (Section 3-11.2 in Chapter 3).
Although socioeconomic research is critical to the successful adoption of new technologies in animal agriculture, insufficient attention has been directed to such research. Few animal science departments in the United States have social sciences or bioethics faculty in their departments who can carry out this kind of research.
RECOMMENDATION 3-12: Socioeconomic and animal science research should be integrated so that researchers, administrators, and decision makers can be guided and informed in conducting and funding effective, efficient, and productive research and technology transfer (Section 3-12 in Chapter 3).
The committee recognizes a broad communication gap related to animal agricultural research and objectives between the animal science community and the consumer. This gap must be bridged if animal protein needs of 2050 are to be fulfilled.
RECOMMENDATION 3-13: There is a need to establish a strong focus on communications research as related to animal science research and animal agriculture, with the goals of enhancing knowledge dissemination, respectful stakeholder participation and engagement, and informed decision making (Section 3-13 in Chapter 3).
Recommendations for Global Animal Agriculture
Overall, the committee strongly supports an increase in funding of global animal research both by governments and the private sector. The committee also identified several recommendations directed toward global animal agriculture.
The committee notes that per capita consumption of animal protein will be increasing more quickly in developing countries than in developed countries through 2050. Animal science research priorities have been proposed by stakeholders in high-income countries, with primarily U.S. Agency for International Development, World Bank, Food and Agriculture Organization, Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research, and nongovernmental organizations individually providing direction for developing countries. A program such as the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP) demonstrates progress toward building better planning in agricultural development in developing countries, through the composite inclusion of social, environmental, and economic pillars of sustainability.
In addition, for at least the last two decades, governments worldwide have been reducing their funding for infrastructure development and training for animal sciences research. Countries and international funding agencies should be encouraged to adapt an integrated agriculture research system to be part of a comprehensive and holistic approach to agriculture production. A system such as CAADP can be adapted for this purpose.
RECOMMENDATION 4-1: To sustainably meet increasing demands for animal protein in developing countries, stakeholders at the national level should be involved in establishing animal science research priorities (Section 4-1 in Chapter 4).
The committee finds that proven technologies and innovations that are improving food security, economics, and environmental sustainability in high-income countries are not being utilized by all developed or developing countries because in some cases they may not be logistically transferrable or in other ways unable to cross political
boundaries. A key barrier to technological adoption is the lack of extension to smallholder farmers about how to utilize the novel technologies for sustainable and improved production as well as to articulate smallholder concerns and needs to the research community. Research objectives to meet the challenge of global food security and sustainability should focus on the transfer of existing knowledge and technology (adoption and, importantly, adaptation where needed) to nations and populations in need, a process that may benefit from improved technologies that meet the needs of multiple, local producers. Emphasis should be placed on extension of knowledge to women in developing nations.
RECOMMENDATION 4-5.2: Research devoted to understanding and overcoming the barriers to technology adoption in developed and developing countries needs to be conducted. Focus should be on the educational and communication role of local extension and advisory personnel toward successful adoption of the technology, with particular emphasis on the training of women (Section 4-5.2 in Chapter 4).
Zoonotic diseases account for 70 percent of emerging infectious diseases. The cost of the six major outbreaks that have occurred between 1997 and 2009 was $80 billion. During the last two decades, the greatest challenge facing animal health has been the lack of resources available to combat several emerging and reemerging infectious diseases. The current level of animal production in many developing countries cannot increase and be sustained without research into the incidence and epidemiology of disease and effective training to manage disease outbreaks, including technically reliable disease investigation and case findings. Infrastructure is lacking in developing countries to combat animal and zoonotic diseases, specifically a lack of disease specialists and diagnostic laboratory facilities that would include focus on the etiology of diseases. There is a lack of critical knowledge about zoonoses presence, prevalence, drivers, and impact. Recent advances in technology offer opportunities for improving the understanding of zoonoses epidemiology and control.
RECOMMENDATION 4-7.1: Research, education (e.g., training in biosecurity), and appropriate infrastructures should be enhanced in developing countries to alleviate the problems of animal diseases and zoonoses that result in enormous losses to animal health, animal producer livelihoods, national and regional economies, and human health (Section 4-7.1 in Chapter 4).
In addition to the recommendations presented in this chapter, the committee identified complementary priorities for research, research support, and infrastructure that can be found in Chapters 3 through 5.