Commission publishes study on the future of EU livestock

A new external study on the ‘Future of EU livestock: How to contribute to a sustainable agricultural sector’ has been published by the European Commission.

The new study focuses on the future of the EU livestock and “covers the livestock sector’s economic importance, its environmental challenges and its role in the transition towards more sustainability”, according to the commission.

The report points to the importance of the sector, what actions it can take to reduce emissions, and the importance of governance to ensure continuity of farm businesses.

Economic importance

Published yesterday (Wednesday, October 14), the study was prepared by two independent experts.

The report highlighted that livestock plays a key role in European agriculture production, its economy and rural vivality.

The value of livestock production and livestock products in 2017 in the EU-28 was equal to €170 billion, representing 40% of the total agricultural activity. 58% of EU farms hold animals and around four million people are employed in the livestock sector across the EU.

The commission notes the report’s findings that 47 million tonnes of meat have been produced in 2017 in the EU, comprised of pig meat (50%), poultry meat (31%), beef (17%), and sheep and goat meat (2%).

The EU is now the world’s second largest producer of meat, far behind China but ahead of the US, it was added

In terms of consumption, protein of animal origin covers over 50% of the total protein content of European diets.

In 2020, each European is expected to consume 69.5kg of meat and 236L of milk. Pork is in first place (31.3kg) followed by poultry (25.6kg) and ruminant meat (10.8kg for beef and 1.8kg for sheepmeat).

Turning to environmental challenges, according to the European Commission, the study describes the significant environmental impact of the livestock sector both in positive and negative terms.

Emissions

In 2017, the EU-28 agricultural sector produced 10% of the region’s total greenhouse gas emissions, which is less than industry (38%) or transport (21%).

Almost half of the agricultural emissions arising within the EU come from enteric fermentation (mainly ruminants) and the management of manures (all livestock).

The sectors are engaged in initiatives to reduce their carbon footprint. EU-28 agricultural greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions decreased by 24% between 1990 and 2013.

As technical progresses have been achieved, significant progress is still possible to mitigate GHG emissions: changes in feed production (use of legumes); smart use of manure (collection, storage facilities); improved herd management; improvement of animal health; precision feeding; or use of feed additives.

In terms of increasing sustainability in the livestock sector, the study highlights the EU livestock production’s efficiency.

If production is reduced in the EU, the risk – if global demand for meat is sustained or increases – is that production and the associated impacts are displaced from the EU to other parts of the world, it was noted.

“In addition, simply reducing EU livestock production might not lead to more sustainable agri-food chains,” the commission noted.

Innovation will be crucial to reduce the negative impacts of the sector, including the use of agro-ecological approaches, technology and increased circularity.

The study also points to the importance of governance to ensure continuity of farm businesses and avoid putting employment at risk during the transition to sustainable livestock systems.