The pre-FFA Stakeholder Debate: Rethinking EU livestock

As has become tradition on the eve of the Forum for the Future of Agriculture, the RISE Foundation engaged over 150 high level stakeholders in an animated debate on a key and current topic for the future of European agriculture. This year the topic was livestock.

In 2017, the Foundation launched a new study on livestock production in Europe. The decision to focus on livestock came out of earlier work by the Foundation on Nutrient fluxes in Europe . Data gathered during this research showed how the rapid evolution of the livestock sector in size, scale, specialisation and concentration had led to a system that was out of balance, where the environmental impacts of production were having serious consequences and greatly outweighing any important positive contributions that the sector could make.

For nearly a year, the Foundation has studied the literature of both the positive and negative impacts of livestock production and consumption in Europe. Emeritus Professor Allan Buckwell, the Director of the study, took the audience through RISE’s thinking on how we should view the future of livestock production and consumption in Europe. He outlined RISE’s efforts to find a framework to engage actors in a constructive debate on the issue and explained how the analysis of the impacts of the sector, combined with Rockström’s (2019) planetary boundaries work and De Vries (2013) paper on human needs and adverse impacts and a social floor and environmental ceiling, had led RISE to develop the concept of the A Safe Operating Space (SOS) for Livestock.

By outlining this new concept to the audience, and the proposed system for defining boundaries, RISE hoped to ignite a response from across a wide range of sectors to help feed into and define its ongoing work in this area. And the audience did not disappoint. First up were the panel; Tom Tynan – Special Advisor to Commissioner Hogan, Duncan Williamson – Food Policy Manager and WWF UK and Hans Huijbers, Farmer and Member of the Board of the LTO Nederland, who each gave a strong response to Foundation’s conclusions to date. Then came an intense hour of questions and comments from members of the audience representing farmers, industry, NGOs and research institutions.

Janez Potocnik, the Chairman of RISE explained to the audience that the overwhelming scientific evidence concerning these impacts, and our need to honour our international agreements on the SDGs and Climate change, meant that it is inevitable that the livestock sector will be forced to change. And indeed this transition is already in process. However, it is crucial, he argued, that any shift in livestock farming in Europe must be accompanied by public support mechanisms and consideration of the complexity and contributions the sector can bring.

The final report will be released 26th June 2018 in Brussels.

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