Role of technology in the global economic importance and viability of animal protein production

That mouthful is the name of an article I wrote for the journal Animal Frontiers.     

Here are a few excerpts: 

Walk in almost any Department of Animal Science in the U.S. and one is likely to find a few black and white photos of stern, cowboy-hat wearing animal husbandry students from the early part of the last century. The remarkable thing about those photos is not the now unfashionable clothes but rather the champion cattle the students were proudly displaying for posterity. Today, one can scarcely find a bovine as fat and squatty as those that were once so esteemed. Pondering the difference between the prized cattle in those black and white photos and almost any old steer in a modern feedlot provides a stark illustration of the role of technology in shaping animal production over the past century


The direst of the Malthusian predictions have failed to materialize. Although the population of the world has grown dramatically over the past three centuries (and is expected to grow further still), the rate of growth has slowed, and in some developed countries has even begun to fall. While people of Malthus’s day probably could not have envisioned modern birth control methods, the most pessimistic interpreters of Malthus’s model almost certainly underestimated the impacts of productivity-increasing technological change.

I used a number of approaches to calculate the economic value of the productivity gains that have occurred in meat production in the past 40 years.  Here are the results of one approach applied to beef cattle:

if we applied the same genetics and technology used in 1970 to a cow herd the size of the one at present, we would expect to experience only $24.8 billion in farm value produced. The remaining $37.16 - $24.80 = $12.36 billion in value actually observed (or about 33% of current total value) is a result of factors (e.g., genetics, technology) that gave rise to improved productivity