January 31, 2023
European agriculture commissioner urges evolution of livestock industry for benefit of environment
European Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development Janusz Wojciechowski said that the livestock sector needs to evolve to be part of the solution to environmental issues.
The commissioner told the 9th International Beef Forum in Poland that the contribution of the sector to the circular bioeconomy is substantial.
The event, hosted by the Polish Beef Association, was entitled "Sustainable beef – High quality, animal welfare, clean environment". Among the topics up for discussion were the role of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and the national CAP strategic plans in transforming the beef industry.
Wojciechowski said that EU livestock production must take place in the most sustainable way possible. This includes increased soil carbon content, landscape management, rural vitality and biodiversity.
"There is no 'one size fits all' livestock production system that fulfils all wishes and addresses all needs," he remarked. "It is our joint responsibility to provide answers to these challenges and to set the conditions for a sustainable livestock production in the 21st century."
The commissioner said that CAP offers tools to help farmers to be economically and environmentally sustainable, while strengthening their position in the food supply chain.
He noted that extensive grassland livestock systems have demonstrated their positive contribution by converting grass into food, producing wool and biomass, maintaining biodiversity, storing carbon, controlling soil erosion and preserving landscapes.
However, Wojciechowski said that intensive livestock systems would need to undergo "a major transformation". This would include technological innovation and higher animal welfare standards, "so that production in the EU would become clearly and visibly sustainable."
Wojciechowski added that CAP would support investments to ensure the proper management of manure and slurry to decrease emissions from the sector.
The EU Commission will also facilitate emissions reducing feed additives to be placed on the market and will promote more sustainable feed materials such as EU-grown plant protein.
The commissioner added that EU rural development funding could be used for targeted animal welfare measures.
He told the conference that although the Farm to Fork Strategy recommends moving to a more plant-based diet, it does not set any target on meat and dairy consumption reduction.
"While animal products will continue to be part of a balanced diet, data shows that also small reductions in production (and consumption, to avoid any leakage effect) can lead to high climate and environmental benefits, in particular if the reduction is targeted in areas with the highest livestock density," the commissioner said.
Wojciechowski noted that the actual and potential contribution of the livestock sector to the circular bioeconomy is substantial.
"Animals are part of a circular economy by converting non-edible biomass into highly nutritious food for humans and producing organic fertilisers," he said. "Co-products from milling industry, dairy processing, sugar production, beer brewing, oilseed extraction, citrus processing and many others can be used in the diet formulation for farm animals."
The commissioner said that livestock raised following circular economy principles including being fed on mainly grass, co-products, food processing by-products and food waste could provide a significant part of the European Union's daily protein needs.
"In an optimised scenario, EU citizens could achieve up to 60% (31g) of their current daily consumption of animal protein through the conversion of low-opportunity-cost feed," he said.
The commissioner said that the proper management, storage and application of manure from livestock can help to increase organic matter in soils and will be fundamental in reaching the EU target of 25% of land being organically farmed.
"While mixed-farming systems allow closing the loop of nutrient managements in the agro-ecosystem, in intensive livestock production area, where an excess of manure is possible, there is the need to turn a problem into a commodity," he said.