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Nitrogen emissions along global livestock supply chains

Abstract

Global livestock supply chains have significantly altered nitrogen (N) flows over past years, thereby threatening environmental and human health. Here, we provide a disaggregated assessment of the livestock sector’s impacts on global N flows and emissions, including international trade. The results show that the sector currently emits 65 Tg N yr−1, equivalent to one-third of current human-induced N emissions and sufficient to meet the planetary boundary for N. Of that amount, 66% is allocated to Asia and 68% is associated with feed production. Most emissions originate from locally produced animal-sourced food, although N emissions embedded in international trade are significant for some importing countries. Given the magnitude of its impacts and its central role in both domestic and international N challenges, the livestock sector urgently requires a global initiative to tackle N pollution while supporting food security.

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Fig. 1: Global N flows and sources of N compound emissions allocated to the livestock sector.
Fig. 2: Disaggregated global N emissions from livestock supply chains.
Fig. 3: Global distribution of N2O and NH3 emissions from livestock supply chains.
Fig. 4: Spatial distribution of NO3 emissions to surface and groundwater from livestock supply chains.
Fig. 5: Distribution of N indicators by species, commodity and systems.
Fig. 6: Embedded N emissions in international trade of feed and livestock commodities.

Data availability

The data used in this study are available in the Supplementary Information and Extended Data Fig. 1. Additional data extracted from GLEAM 2.0 are provided as Source Data. The detailed raw data used in GLEAM 2.0 for this assessment are available upon request from the corresponding author. Source Data are provided with this paper.

Code availability

The R code used to estimate the N indicators is available at https://github.com/uaimable/Global_Nitrogen_assessment. The detailed Python codes used in GLEAM 2.0 are available on request from the corresponding author.

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Acknowledgements

This work was supported by the Teagasc Walsh Fellowship Scheme (ref. 2012230), the Livestock Environmental Assessment Performance (LEAP) Partnership (GCP/GLO/369/MUL) and the Livestock Information, Sector Analysis and Policy Branch (AGAL) of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). This work was supported in part through the project ‘Supporting the Implementation of the Koronivia Joint Work on Agriculture Roadmap’ (GCP/GLO/998/GER) supported by the Federal Ministry of Agriculture (BMEL) of Germany. We thank G. Cinardi for supporting the modelling of ruminant systems, J. C. Lopes for her comments on an earlier version of this manuscript and G. Virgili and C. Ciarlantini for designing Fig. 1.

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Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Contributions

A.U., P.J.G., R.P.O.S., C.I.O. and I.J.M.d.B. designed the research. A.U. was the principal investigator, and A.U., M.R. and F.C. collected new data. F.T. and F.C. analysed FAO trade matrix and transport data. A.U., G.T. and A.F. developed the modelling procedures. A.F. and G.T. analysed the geo-referenced information for the livestock systems. A.U. analysed N flows and indicators. M.R. designed the graphs and maps. A.U. wrote the draft paper. P.J.G., I.J.M.d.B., R.P.O.S., C.I.O., A.F., T.P.R., H.S., F.T., J.N.G., A.L. and J.W.E. contributed to the writing of the paper. P.J.G., C.I.O. and I.J.M.d.B. jointly supervised the research.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Aimable Uwizeye.

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The authors declare no competing interests.

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Publisher’s note Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Extended data

Extended Data Fig. 1 Hotspots of N2O, NH3 and NO3 emissions from global livestock supply chains.

The map shows classes of hotspots in which one or more N compounds are concentrated.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Supplementary figures, tables, methods and discussion of the analysis.

Reporting Summary

Supplementary Data

Country-specific data extracted from the GLEAM model. We provide detailed country-specific data extracted from the GLEAM model (version 2.0) on nitrogen flows and emissions by livestock system, species and supply chain stage. For animal production, data on productivity, emission factors and allocation factors are presented. Moreover, results on embedded N emissions in internationally traded feed and animal products are also provided.

Source data

Source Data Fig. 1

Global N flows and sources of N compound emissions allocated to the livestock sector in Tg N yr−1.

Source Data Fig. 2

Regional N emissions by livestock species in Gg N yr−1 and regional N emissions by livestock systems in Gg N yr−1.

Source Data Fig. 5

Life-cycle nitrogen use efficiency (life-cycle-NUEN) in % and life-cycle net nitrogen balance (life-cycle-NNBN) in kg N ha−1.

Source Data Fig. 6

Embedded N emissions associated to bilateral international trade of feed and livestock commodities expressed in tonnes of N in 2010.

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Uwizeye, A., de Boer, I.J.M., Opio, C.I. et al. Nitrogen emissions along global livestock supply chains. Nat Food 1, 437–446 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s43016-020-0113-y

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