The European Commission published a new study on the future of EU livestock and sustainability

A new study on EU livestock socioeconomic importance and environmental challenges has been published on 14 October 2020 by the European Commission. The study “Future of EU livestock: How to contribute to a sustainable agricultural sector” points to the benefits and drawbacks of livestock production within the Union. It particularly emphasizes the need for stronger actions to further reduce the sector’s negative impacts while ensuring its continuity.

Livestock plays an essential role in European agriculture, contributing to production, economy and rural vitality.  According to the report, livestock represents 40 percent of the total agricultural activity in the EU and employs nearly 4 million people. Despite a registered decline in meat and dairy average consumption, animal protein still covers over 50 percent of the total protein content of the EU diets. 

The two faces of livestock environmental impacts are described. On the one side, livestock’s contribution to environmental damages: in 2017, EU agricultural sector produced 10 per cent of the region's total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and the livestock sector was responsible for 81-86 percent of total agricultural GHG emissions.  Although, this estimation includes emissions related to the production, transport and processing of feed, almost half of the contributions correspond to ruminant enteric fermentation and the management of livestock manure.

On the other side, certain livestock systems and farming practices significantly contribute to soil biodiversity and soil carbon generating positive environmental outcomes. Described examples are the maintenance of permanent grassland and hedges and the optimization of manure use.

The study calls attention towards EU livestock production efficiency, the importance of taking into account the different livestock production systems and considering the socioeconomic aspects of livestock for more sustainable food systems. It further underlines that a good transition towards sustainability should be climate, health and animal welfare centered and backed with new technologies and innovation for production efficiency and good governance to ensure the sector’s and employment’ continuity.