The Commission’s long-awaited Communication on sustainable food has still not been published. We have tried to partially fill this gap by producing our report. In our view it is what the Commission’s Communication should be saying. The report is based on publications by bodies such as FAO and UNEP and on the findings of a wide range of scientific research. It primarily focuses on the role of livestock in the food system.
The report shows that industrial livestock production is resource-inefficient, harmful to human health, damaging to land, soils, water and biodiversity and responsible for very poor animal welfare. In particular, it concludes:
- 60% of EU cereals are fed to farm animals. Feeding cereals to animals is inefficient. For every 100 calories that we feed to animals in the form of human-edible crops, we receive on average just 17-30 calories in the form of meat and milk.
- We are often told that to feed the growing world population food production must increase by around 70% and accordingly that further intensification of agriculture is essential. However, if food waste - including the feeding of human-edible cereals to animals - were just halved, an extra 2.75 billion people could be fed i.e. more than the expected increase in world population. Increased production is needed, particularly in the developing world, but the required increase is very much lower than 70%.
- Animal products from industrial systems generally use more arable land and consume and pollute more ground- and surface-water than animal products from grazing or mixed systems. This is due to industrial systems’ dependence on feeding cereals to animals.
- Nitrogen pollution of water, air and soils is a major environmental challenge. The use of fertilisers to grow feed crops for animals is the EU’s largest source of nitrogen pollution.
- The high levels of meat consumption made possible by industrial farming are having a detrimental impact on human health. Overconsumption of animal protein can lead to obesity, diabetes, heart diseases and certain cancers. Many of the world’s poor would benefit from increased meat consumption. However, the developing world should aim for a balanced intake of animal-source foods and should not adopt harmful western diets.