According to a report released this week by the Farm Foundation, North America "enjoys highly efficient livestock production systems that have adapted and evolved to meet changing conditions." The report, "The Future of Animal Agriculture in North America," says the livestock industry is competitive in the global market place but faces opportunities and challenges in both North America and internationally

The report examines: economics of production, processing and marketing; consumer demands; global competitiveness and trade; food safety and animal health; environmental issues; community and labor; and animal welfare. Key items include: Markets, structure and competition: Current production and marketing technologies allow significant economies of scale so production and processing units are getting larger. Smaller producers have potential to flourish if they provide products that command premium prices in the marketplace.

Value in integrated markets: There is value in an integrated North American market. Strategies need to be identified to deal with border closings, including procedures to re-open borders and to settle disputes more effectively to prevent long-term economic disruptions.

Demand is increasing: Global demand for animal protein is increasing, particularly in developing countries as incomes increase.

Environmental regulations: Environmental regulations increase production and processing costs. Regulatory differences across countries, states and provinces will have an impact on the future location of the industry. In the U.S., regulatory uncertainty caused by litigation is also a problem.

Immigration and labor: Some segments of animal production, and most animal processing in the U.S., are dependent on a workforce that includes many undocumented immigrants. This creates uncertainty for the workers and employers.

Communities and communication: The industry has a complex relationship with the rural communities where it operates. These relationships require cooperation and clear communication. The 247 page report and executive summary are available at www.farmfoundation.org. -- P. Scott Shearer, Washington, D.C., correspondent