In this section we share opinion pieces from scientists, experts and livestock farmers, as well as letters of interest.

Sustainability a priority for the animal feed sector

In September 2020 the European Feed Manufacturers’ Federation FEFAC published a Feed Sustainability Charter 2030. The 2nd Progress Report was published in September 2022. Highlighting five ambitions for more sustainable feed production, the charter provides an overview of how the European Feed Industry can contribute to more sustainable livestock and aquaculture value chains.

The ambitions include the contribution to climate-neutral livestock and aquaculture production through feed, fostering sustainable food systems through increased resource and nutrient efficiency, promoting responsible sourcing practices, improving farm animal health and welfare, and enhancing the socio-economic environment and resilience of the livestock and aquaculture sectors.

It has long been recognised that good formulation of animal feed is essential for reducing environmental impacts in the livestock sector. But what else is really known about what goes into producing feed?

A key fact that is perhaps not so well known is that in the EU, 96% of animal feed ingredients are “non-food grade” so not suitable for human consumption. The claim that livestock and people are ‘in competition’ for food is a common criticism which is a far from the reality. In fact, in 2017 FAO reported that at a global level 86% of what livestock eats is effectively not food that humans could have eaten.

And FEFAC goes even further into the distinction. Rather than considering what feed is “human edible” or not, FEFAC looked at whether feed is of a “food grade” nature, meaning designed primarily for the use as food and subsequently redirected to animal feed. It is a common misunderstanding that when the feed industry speaks, for example, of maize used in feed, this would mean sweetcorn. But this is not the case. People would not want to eat the cereals used in feed.

Cereal varieties grown for animal feed do not usually meet the quality requirements needed to produce human food, such as bread, beer and pasta. A significant share of cereals used in feed is downgraded from food to feed grade status because they did not meet the requirements. For this reason, from an economic point of view, feed production is never in direct competition with human consumption, hence the significantly lower quotations on the feed market. In that sense, animal feed use of the cereals will never drive shortages in the food market.

Moreover, when a feed ingredient that is food grade is sold to a feed operator, this usually results from surpluses for which demand from the human consumption market could no longer be accommodated. FEFAC’s analysis is fundamental, as it finds that practically none of the feed used by compound feed manufacturers can be considered food grade. So in essence, such use of non-food grade or surplus ingredients not only serves to feed animals efficiently, it also helps to avoid food waste.

The European feed sector also addresses other issues, such as the accurate measurement of the impact of innovative feed ingredients and the feeding strategies to reduce the methane and ammonia emissions based on feed digestion at the livestock farm level. According to the 2030 Climate Target Plan Impact Assessment in the Commission’s Methane Reduction Strategy, the EU plans to reduce methane emissions by 35–37% by 2030. Livestock can help, as cattle farming shows constant progress in methane emissions reduction. And reviewing feed composition and adding several strategic ingredients can significantly reduce emissions from animal digestion.

Animal nutrition is also a key element for reducing the need for antibiotics and enhancing farm animal health and welfare. Antibiotics in European livestock farming have steadily declined over the past decade (-43% from 2011 to 2020). ESVAC also reported that in the EU, the ‘in-feed inclusion’ of antibiotics via medicated feed was reduced by 51% between 2011-2018. These results have been achieved thanks to the best hygiene practices, vaccination and developments in animal nutrition as a preventative measure.

The use of alternative raw materials and feed additives help protect animal welfare and reduce the need for veterinary treatments. Current feeding regimes aimed at improving gut health and microbiome management have also shown excellent results for animal robustness, and for coping better with stress factors and pathogens. For this reason, animal nutrition solutions will play a central role as a preventative measure to slow development of antimicrobial resistance (AMR).

As the FEFAC Feed Sustainability Charter uses the year 2030 as the target, FEFAC will produce annual progress reports covering the key actions and activities in relation to the Charter in the preceding year. As mentioned above, the 2nd Progress Report was published in September 2022 and points to the key importance of including resilience and competitiveness as part of sustainable livestock production.

What is clear is that sustainable feed production is key to ensuring the success and resilience of the livestock sector as well as the feed and food industry!

It is totally unreasonable to include the agricultural sector in the Industrial Emission Directive!

Article by Ronald Pirlot, Pleinchamp and translated by ELV

A few months ago, the European Commission proposed to extend the scope of the Industrial Emissions Directive (IED) to, previously exempted, cattle farming, and to lower the threshold for its applicability to all farms with more than 150 livestock units i.e. a farm with 90 cows, including young stock! This is quite simply unreasonable, as a delegation of MEPs and assistants of MEPs saw when they visited the Godfriaux family farm in Perwez and the Paquet family farm in Yvoir in Belgium.

Wednesday 7 September, 2.15pm. A bus drives through the peaceful countryside of Perwez, before coming to a halt just outside the pig farm that Jordan Godfriaux runs with his wife in Malèves-Sainte-Marie-Wastinnes. A delegation of around thirty people including three MEPs and a dozen parliamentary assistants had accepted the European Livestock Voice invitation to come see a farm up close and experience ‘all the industrial emissions’ first-hand.

The farm study visit was supported by the Walloon Federation of Agriculture (FWA), and their President Marianne Streel welcomed the group, saying, “With this field visit, we want to show you how we work on our farms, which are first and foremost family farms with a very strong connection to the surrounding land. According to the Commission, the costs coming from the proposal for farms concerned will be as high as about 2,400€ only for administrative costs. But according to our calculations, it will be considerably more because of the best available techniques (BATs) that accompany it. But beyond the non-negligible financial aspect, we find it deeply shocking to associate the practices and the daily running of our farms with the term “industrial”, even though our farms are subject to the highest production standards. There is also a risk of stigmatisation which could undermine the relationship of trust established with our customer base in the excellence of our products. Europe may wish to class us as industrial, but we appeal to your common sense to ensure that this does not happen.

The proposal indicates that the EU Industrial Emissions Directive (IED) should also apply to livestock farming and its application should be extended to all types of livestock farms from a planned threshold of 150 livestock units (LSU). This would lead to additional costs and as an administrative burden for the farms concerned, without any additional environmental gain given the high standards already in place. “The IED will contradict our current legal provisions for environmental permits and soil regulations. As such, the directive is not adapted to our Walloon agricultural sector,” warned Mr Bissot, project manager for the EurECO office.

The farmer Jordan Godfriaux gave a short history of his pig fattening farm and his farm shop, highlighting the human element behind the farm, the commitment, and the cooperative process as well as mutual exchanges including bedding and food with neighbouring farmers. “15% of our production is sold on the farm from our farm shop, the remaining 85% is sold through the cooperative run by the farmers themselves, which oversees the entire chain from production to the consumer’s plate” explained Jordan Godfriaux. He also highlighted the environmental measures taken on the farm with solar panels, rainwater recovery, etc.  “In short, we are self-sufficient in terms of energy”. The visiting MEPs and assistants were happy to partake in a tasting of the farm specialities, before heading to the second farm where they would hear from Adrien Paquet on his beef farm in Dorinne.

Like Jordan, Adrien is a true enthusiast. He waxed lyrical about his job, and his “Bleu Blanc Belge” cattle that he clearly cherishes.  “It’s a typical farm for the region, again closely linked to the land. We produce beef cattle with veal raised on their mother’s milk”. He also spoke of his family heritage and his interest in protecting the environment as demonstrated by the ongoing experiment to measure carbon capture in the soil in one of his fields, a project that has been being conducted for 12 years now by the University of Liège.

A family farm means a farm you can pass on. We must maintain the practices for our children, as our parents did before us. This family model is very important to me”. With that he asked our visitors, “You’ve seen it all now. So, do you consider my farm to be industrial?

“We have 9 months to challenge the proposal” (Benoît Lutgen (EPP, BE) Rapporteur on the directive)

The only Belgian MEP present, Benoît Lutgen, listened attentively to what was said during the visit. As rapporteur on the directive for the European Parliament’s Agriculture Committee he said, “I would like to thank the FWA for immediately flagging the problem to me. This meant that I could apply to be the rapporteur on this proposal and defend our shared point of view”, his opinion is clear-cut. “It is totally unreasonable to include the agricultural sector in this directive and to consider a Walloon farm such as these on par with industries, like Arcelor Mittal. It makes no sense, except to far-removed consultants and civil servants. Because as far as the environment is concerned, farming practices are already subject to very high standards. On the contrary, the directive risks the loss of smaller farms to the benefit of the big farms, which are the only ones able to digest the costs that the directive will impose”.

What next? The rapporteurs will share their analysis in early October. This will be followed by a meeting of the AGRI Committee in November with possible amendments. The final vote, during the Parliament’s plenary, is expected in Spring or during early Summer. “In other words, there are about 9 months of fighting left” concluded Benoît Lutgen.

“Agriculture needs a derogation in the IED” (Jérémy Decerle (Renew, FR) shadow Rapporteur of the directive)

Holding a double role as MEP and farmer in Bourgogne-Franche-Comté in France, Jérémy Decerle (Renew, FR) did not mince his words. “Europe has still not understood that its agriculture is not like any other because it is already subjected to the highest animal welfare and quality standards. So, those who draft the new proposals should get out of the Berlaymont and drive half an hour, like us, to see the reality of the practices on the ground. They would realise that they risk jeopardising farms that are already taking an environmental approach and are already doing more for the environment than they are! How can you explain to a farmer in the Massif Central who has 50 animals on 100 hectares that he is running an industrial farm? For me, the idea would be to consider agriculture as a specific matter. And introduce an agricultural derogation in the IED.”

Goodbye Cows: is a world without livestock the solution?

The total elimination of livestock farming is a triumph for animal rights fanatics and some urban environmentalists. But is it the solution to all our problems? Are the biggest polluters on the planet not the industries, nor the fossil fuels, but the cows? Currently, cows seem to be public enemy number one in the media, the only cause of climate change.

In the exciting film “Goodbye Cows“, Prof. Frédéric Leroy from the Industrial Microbiology and Food Biotechnology Group of the University of Brussels sheds light on one of the most complex and controversial issues that we face. “Today, cows are seen as the most destructive animals for the planet”, – Prof. Leroy begins in his interview – “They emit greenhouse gases, they use a lot of soil and a lot of water, and they compete with us for food. This misinformation is influencing policy choices at high levels. Just think of the EAT-Lancet diet, proposed as the best diet for human and planet health. It is a semi-vegetarian diet with negligible quantities of meat, insufficient to guarantee the coverage of needs. Even taxes on meat and the exclusion of meat from school menus, canteens or public events have been proposed, inviting toward a completely vegetarian menu. But if we implement this diet worldwide, it will be a disaster“.

We are facing purely economic interests, trying to replace animal proteins with plant proteins from ultra-processed artificial foods. Some big investors fund this activity, like lab-grown meat cultivated in a laboratory or plant-based fake meat. As Fernando Estellés from the Polytechnic University of Valencia explains, these investors are trying to change our way of thinking, our way of life and influence us on a social, political and legislative level.

Animal welfare and sustainability are used as arguments, blaming our meat consumption for destroying the planet and our health. “It must be taken into account that methane emitted by animals and CO2 from fossil fuels do not have the same effect” – Fernando Estellés explains – “Methane from animals remains in the atmosphere for ten years. So, it warms the planet, but after ten years, it disappears. It is then part of the CO2 that plants absorb with photosynthesis. Animals eat plants, so Methane is part of a very short biogenic cycle. Instead, we extract new carbon from fossil fuels that remains in the atmosphere for thousands of years, continuing to warm the planet. So, the comparison does not stand, as Methane from animals is recycled in 10 years, while CO2 from fossil fuels continues to warm for hundreds of years”.

“If we eliminate cattle, we lose a very ancient system of co-evolution between animals and humans”, – Leroy continues – “If we remove all the cows, what will happen to the grasslands? What will happen to all ecosystems? Eliminating livestock is a fanatical and unrealistic idea that has destructive effects”. An example is the Dehesa, a multifunctional, agrosilvopastoral system and cultural landscape of southern and central Spain and southern Portugal, which can absorb carbon from the very high environment.

If we eliminate animals, we lose this ability. So, the film shows a hypothetical scenario of a world without animals in 2036, with land abandonment and rural depopulation. “If 115,000 livestock families disappear, the rural environment will be abandoned, with a demographic decline in those areas. Most meat production is concentrated in marginal areas of medium-high mountains, which are already problematic for rural depopulation,” – says Edelmiro López of the University of Santiago de Compostela, explaining the importance of livestock in enhancing marginal lands, maintaining the landscape, avoiding hydrogeological instability and ensuring a livelihood for rural families. With the loss of livestock, we lose part of our culture, history, and traditions. “If animals do not graze, grazing lands are transformed into forests, becoming woodier and shrubbier. This subjects (the forests) to a greater risk of fires,” – Sonia Roig of the Complutense University of Madrid points out – “To maintain a good state of the territory, the pasture and the care of the farmers are necessary. But the number of cattle we have today is not enough to keep all our territories of interest”.

The film also addresses the issue of the loss of the Amazon Forest for the soybean cultivation for animals, specifying in the first instance that more than 80% of what a cow eats is entirely inedible to us. There is, therefore, no competition for food because cows eat fodder, hay, grass and by-products rich in cellulose that is indigestible to us, transforming them into animal source products with high nutritional value. It is, therefore, not the cows that feed the fires for soy crops.

On the contrary, livestock maintains the land and reduces the risk of forest fires. Maria Diago, an environmental expert, spoke about the trend of veggie foods such as tofu and seitan favouring industrial processes, destroying forests and natural ecosystems. In her work, she analyzed 15 sustainability indicators specific to the gastronomy sector, covering the actual consumption of natural resources. Water consumption is one of the most critical issues, so much so that many accusations have been made about meat production being the most significant user of water.

But even here, the much-reported 15,000 litres of water to produce 1 kg of meat is fake news, but it’s difficult to forget. “When we talk about litres of water to produce meat, we must not think about the water drunk by cows, which is relatively residual”, – Fernando Estellés continues – “We have three types of water, green, blue and grey water. The green water represents rainwater. Blue water is the one we extract from the aquifers, and it is the most dangerous because we affect the water reserves. Gray water is what I contaminate with my activities. In livestock farming, 90% of the water used is green, which returns into the water cycle with no real impact on the environment and ecosystem”.

So, with rural abandonment, biodiversity loss, fires and climate change. Are cows the enemies of the planet? Are industrial ultra-processed plant-based foods our saviours?

Lierre Keith, an American writer and activist, tells of her devastating experience with the vegan diet. She became vegan at 16, convinced that it was the healthiest choice for herself and the planet. Instead, she faced several health problems due to this poor diet. “For 20 years, I destroyed my body, so much so that I struggled to stand. I realized that my values framework was correct: ethics, compassion, and sustainability, but a vegan diet was not the solution. I wasn’t saving any animals. This is just a fairy tale, and I didn’t know the real cost that the planet was paying for my plant-based diet. Those benefiting from it were only the big multinationals producing ultra-processed plant-based foods. There are only six big companies so we can talk about a big monopoly“.

The debate should not be about meat versus chickpeas or peas, but natural meat versus ultra-processed plant-based foods made from 15-20 ingredients. Consuming them is not healthy. “It is thought that we can replace animal source foods such as meat with plant-based foods, but it is pure fantasy“, – Leroy continues – “It’s not an easy process. It’s a reductionist idea. If we read the list of ingredients of plant-based imitations of meat, we can see that it is full of additives, texturizers and so on. Even plant-based does not mean that there are vegetables inside, but only extracts – nothing that resembles a vegetable. Producing these ultra-processed foods consumes a lot of energy and is not an alternative with zero impact or residues compared to livestock farming. They give an image of healthier, more sustainable products, but they aren’t”.

“This trend of producing fake, artificial foods like veggie burgers and fake sausages is worryingly spreading”, Lierre Keith continues – “But we have an ancestral carnivorous instinct, and in this way, we deny our body what it needs. Meat and animal products contain either absent or not bioavailable nutrients in plants. If you want to be vegan, you can do it, but you need supplements, such as omega 3, vitamin A, vitamin B12, heme iron etc… It is so sad because it will never be like eating a real portion of meat or drinking a glass of milk, having some butter or grass-fed cheese“.

If we want to solve the problems of sustainability and climate change, we must let the ruminants do their job. Because what they do is preserve the soil, seize the carbon, and fertilize the lands. We do not need a giant vacuum cleaner that removes all the atmospheric gas emissions. All we need are ruminants and grass. The hope is that the world will return to life. And before that, to common sense.

Animal husbandry and circular economy: the importance of former foodstuff

An overlooked fact about the livestock sector and the protection of the environment and natural resources is that: livestock supply chains are virtually fully circular. Livestock can implement well the circular economy. For example, hundreds of products are obtained from a single cow or pig, and emissions can be reduced by producing biogas and biomethane valorizing the manure. One significant but lesser-known way is through the upcycling of so-called “former foodstuffs“, usually defined as “biscuit meal” or “bread meal”.

We spoke to Valentina Massa: “a mother and businesswoman in the circular feed sector”, and the European Former Foodstuff Processors Association (EFFPA) president.

What is EFFPA, and what does it do?

EFFPA is the European – but de facto international – association representing the sector of former foodstuff processors. Our members are national associations (the United Kingdom, France, Germany, and the Netherlands) and significant companies representing key markets (Belgium, Spain and Portugal, Italy, Greece, Denmark, Canada and the USA). It is estimated that five million tonnes of former foodstuffs are processed annually in Europe, of which 3.5 million tonnes are processed in the European countries where EFFPA is active.

Where does the ex-food destined to produce animal feed come from?

The correct term is former foodstuff. The definition set out in EU Regulation (EU 1104/2022) states, “Former foodstuffs’ means foodstuffs, other than catering reflux, which were manufactured for human consumption in full compliance with the EU food law but which are no longer intended for human consumption for practical or logistical reasons or due to problems of manufacturing or packaging defects or other defects and which do not present any health risks when used as feed(…)”. Since they are former foodstuffs, they come mainly from the food manufacturing industries as individual ingredients, intermediate products and finished products with mislabeling, packaging errors, etc. But they can also come from distribution and retail logistics centres.

An exceptional feature of former foodstuff is that, within the livestock value chain, they allow for considerable savings in water consumption, carbon footprint and land use by replacing “traditional” raw materials from the primary feed sector. Several Life Cycle Assessment studies have shown a significant advantage for the environment in favouring these circular ingredients.

What is the difference between food waste and food with characteristics that can be transformed into the feed?

Food waste, by definition, means any substance or product, whether processed, partially processed or unprocessed, intended to be, or reasonably expected to be ingested by humans which (Ref Reg. Ce 178/02 art. 2) for various reasons has lost the purpose of being ingested by humans, and it is not destined as a feed ingredient. In other words, food is not eaten and goes out of the feed and food chain. Feed is excluded from this definition because the nutritional part is “saved” in the feed chain. It is important to emphasize that waste cannot be part of the food or feed chain. The European Commission and the UN SDGs share the goal of halving food waste by 2030.

Translating the term ‘waste’ into different languages can be slightly unhelpful for former foodstuffs. For example, what in Italian is defined as a “waste” takes a different connotation of rejection in English. EFFPA has always supported the concept of circular raw materials as it is the best reuse in terms of the circular economy immediately after the use for human food. It is not in competition with human food (because it is defined as former foodstuff only if no longer intended for human consumption). It guarantees the reduction of food waste, as it reduces the use of “traditional” resources from the primary/agricultural sector and, therefore, less use of water, land and fertilizers.

The fact that it starts as feed material and not as waste allows for maximum feed safety and traceability, as all feed system operators implement a Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) system – a preventive approach to increase food safety by avoiding hazards in production processes that would make the final product unsafe – and ensured traceability to reduce and minimize any risk.

How can we guarantee total food safety in producing feed from “former foodstuff”?

The guarantee of safety is based on five pillars:

1)          Specific technical and plant engineering capacity for the type of ex-food product and packaging to ensure maximum food safety.

2)          According to HACCP management, organizations with advanced traceability systems manage, prevent, monitor and minimize any risk.

3)         Logistic and storage capacity suitable for the specific types of former foodstuff to ensure timeliness and correct transport and storage rules.

4)         Synergy and collaboration with food business operators in risk prevention and HACCP management to effectively make the circular economy a valuable and durable asset in food safety.

5)         Synergy and collaboration with research centres and the feed industry to improve the response to the needs of modern animal husbandry.

Beyond the value of a circular economy, can your work support the supply chains also in terms of food security? Especially in times of war and scarcity or supply disruption…

It is currently estimated that five million tonnes of former foodstuff products are produced annually in Europe. Using these ingredients can partially replace cereal grains, oils and sugars in livestock rations: it is an actual nutritional efficiency. For years, we have contributed to a more sustainable food chain, producing less waste and enhancing circular ingredients in feed. Working with the food distribution and retail sectors to improve their know-how will help towards our goal of reducing food wastage. This still needs development.

At the moment, the conflict in Ukraine has further exacerbated the tension also for energy supply. The risk is that all the work done to date – and with it, the efficiency obtained with the former-foodstuff products and other food by-products in the feed chain – will be sidelined by incentives to increase energy production that certainly serve but may not be defined as sustainable, when produced with feed ingredients instead of residues without other potential uses. To give a simple example, would you heat your home by burning the food stored in your pantry? Indeed, it would generate heat, but at what cost? And then what will you eat? We need to think about the proper allocation of resources and avoid silo-thinking, now more than ever when scarcity is a reality.

In several decades of activity in the circular economy, we have learned that it is necessary to continuously collaborate constructively with the various sectors in compliance with the laws. We are convinced that the food industries, policymakers and consumers will agree we must protect our  food and feed system and find the right way to implement renewable energy.

Not only chickpeas, here’s the hummus made with turkey meat

Indykpol is a Polish company established in 1991, which specializes in breeding and fattening turkeys and producing and selling turkey meat and turkey meat products. With an annual revenue (Indykpol Group) of 211 million euros in 2020 and a processing capacity of 32,000 turkeys per day, the Polish company ranks among the most prominent European companies in the turkey market. But, more importantly, it believes that “good food equals good life”. In a recent twist Indykpol launched the so-called “turkey hummus” – some may say as a response to the constant marketing of plant-based foods with meat designations. For others, it’s just an interesting new food product. We spoke to Piotr Kulikowski, CEO and General Manager of Indykpol about this new product.

What is “turkey hummus”?

Turkey breast hummus is a product for all “meat lovers”, and those who just like to try meat in a different form. The product is prepared from turkey breast meat only. It is a product with a light, smooth, spreadable consistency. As its name suggests, the product can be used just like hummus or any other spread. It can be served with baguette, pitta bread, or vegetables cut into sticks.

Positive aspects include its good taste and health features, such as the lack of preservatives, artificial colours or monosodium glutamate. In essence, it is a gluten-free product, a good source of protein and low in calories, which is important for snacks or ‘on-the-go’ products.

What do you want to communicate with this initiative?

Indykpol has always tried to bring unusual, innovative products to the market. Turkey breast hummus was created in response to the changing consumer needs who are looking for modern products with healthy ingredients, for quick usage not only at home but also at work, and wanting to increase a variety of daily snacks or meals. It is the perfect product for anyone who wants a bit of diversity in their diet.

Why do you think some consumers are looking for products mimicking meat?

Launching completely new products to the market, that don’t evoke any association with anything else, or which you do not know how to use or consume, involves massive expenditure on promotion and communication needed to explain and inform people. In addition, people who have given up meat in their adult lives will often recall a positive experience of eating meat-based products in terms of taste, aroma/flavour and texture. That is why there is a strong desire to use the terms that evoke an idea of the favourable taste – even though the products themselves do not have a meat component.

The young generation has a different approach – the taste does not have to imitate meat products. It just has to be good, both for the planet and your health, to eat. For some young vegetarians, the “meat taste” of the dishes is even a disadvantage. Products for such people do not have to pretend to be meat sausages or burgers. They can look and taste different – as long as they are generally tasty.

Do you think vegetable (or synthetic) imitations of meat will be able to replace natural meat products?

I think these two worlds will coexist in the future. They will complement each other, not exclude each other.

The number of people who give up meat will certainly increase. But it will not become the dominant attitude. It is well known that meat consumption decreases with the growth of wealth. Only after exceeding a very high standard of living do people begin to change their habits and eventually reduce meat consumption.

It is important to remember that meat has many benefits as part of our diet, but we should be careful how much we eat. I believe we should eat less meat, but better quality meat. One solution is a new trend, the so-called flexitarianism. It is a diet that limits the consumption of meat and meat products but does not eliminate them. We believe moderation, variety and common sense are central to our health.

It is always worth reading labels and checking the ingredients, which are not always clear as to what is good for our bodies. Vegetable burgers, nuggets and sausages often have ingredients that are bad for us, such as a high salt or fat content and, therefore they are also, high in calories.

What do you think of the debate, both on the European and national level, on the meat denomination for vegan alternatives?

The topic is complex, and there are no simple answers. So far, there are no specific and universal legal rules for meat denomination for vegan alternatives, similar to the one used for the name “milk”, which can be used only for milk of animal origin.

Circular Feed: key to sustainability

Circular Feed” for animals is a relatively recent concept, even though the European feed industry has always recovered nutrients in secondary raw materials from other industrial processes. Nutrient recovery and reducing nutrient losses are essential as this ensures the contribution of feed production in the circular economy of livestock farming. This circular food system keeps valuable nutrients in the food chain that would otherwise go to waste.

The feed industry plays a crucial role in closing nutrient cycles and optimising the bioavailability of nutrients for human consumption. Products derived from livestock farming such as meat, dairy, eggs, as well as fish from aquaculture, are an excellent source of nutrient-dense food for humans. Farm animals are reared on feed made from plant parts that humans do not eat, such as grass or residues from food processing activities. The recovery of wheat bran from flour millers, for which there was no human food market, citrus pulp derived from citrus fruit processing, or beet pulp pellets and molasses derived from sugar production are good examples.

FEFAC recently published “Circular Feed – Optimised Nutrient Recovery Through Animal Nutrition” – a publication showcasing the European feed industry‘s practical interpretation of the “Circular Feed” concept with examples of how the sector contributes to the circular economy.

The European Commission’s Farm to Fork Strategy, published in May 2020, provided additional stimulus on how to make more use of alternative feed ingredients and consequently lower the environmental footprint of animal products. It is clear that the increased use of circular feed and less reliance on agricultural land will result in lower greenhouse gas emissions related to feed production.

But FEFAC highlights that the impact assessment of the forthcoming EU Sustainable Food Systems Framework must critically review extreme measures in the EU regulatory framework that restrict circularity iand create bottlenecks, limiting access to a broader range of circular nutrient sources.   

“In the publication, we try to describe our contribution to the circular economy – Anton van den Brink, FEFAC Senior Policy & Communication Manager, comments – Circular Feed is a concept built from other kinds of industry sectors, like construction, litter waste and resources transformation. So, we take inspiration from other definitions and experiences and try to apply that to feed, to show that we are proud of the upcycling process. This is a circular economy as you have secondary raw materials with nutrients that, through the farm animals and the upcycling process, you transform into highly bioavailable nutrients for human consumption. Humans can’t consume feed, so there is no competition. The feed sector industry contributes to assisting livestock farming to become part of more circular, low-carbon food production systems”.

“The upcycling of nutrients through farm animals, converting secondary raw materials to highly bioavailable nutrients for human consumption, is an important part of our licence to produce as European feed manufacturers – FEFAC President Asbjørn Børsting adds – We can provide many concrete examples already today, allowing us to increase the share in feed formulations of circular feed, not competing with direct human food use. However, we recommend a systematic and critical review of current legislative bottlenecks in the EU regulatory framework which currently restrict a higher level of circularity in EU food systems through innovative animal nutrition solutions, to allow for further optimisation of our circular economy potential in the forthcoming EU Sustainable Food Systems Framework”.

A Sustainable Food Systems Framework should  ensure that use of nutrients emerging from the circular economy is not deviated towards bioenergy use because of misguided incentives for renewable energies. FEFAC recommends setting up a clear hierarchy for nutrient-rich biomass, prioritising the food chain use of nutrients over non-food use. Policy pressure to boost bioenergy production may cause valuable residual biomass flows to be lost from the food chain to energy production.

Marije Klever: “Raising animals is not against nature but with nature”

While the farmers’ protest in the Netherlands rages on against government plans to reduce crops and livestock in order to cut nitrogen emissions, sending many of them out of business, it is important to point out that the situation for the Dutch farming sector has not been easy for quite some time now.

Marije Klever is a young dairy farmer from the Netherlands. She’s been a member of the Young Farmer Organization for five years now since she started her farm with just twenty cows. We asked her about being a young farmer today, and the main issues, concerns, and challenges. “We have great goals for different topics: biodiversity, climate, nitrogen, quality – Marije says – It is nice to be a farmer because you work with animals and nature. But I’m also concerned about the future of farming. Will we be able as farmers to take our steps? Sometimes you don’t even know how to get there. It is not always easy to see a bright future and know where you are heading. But I say to myself that I like that, and even if we don’t know how exactly, we can look for a way to reach those goals”.

The young farmer is well aware of the difficulties farmers have in making it clear to the general public that raising animals is not against nature but with nature. She plans to preserve the local ecosystem on her farm with her work. “On my land, there are different parts which are not that productive for the animals, they are just there, and I try to use them more for nature. I plant trees, for example, and different herbs so my farm has many biodiversities. It is a nice place for different species of birds and insects. We work in nature, and without biodiversity, it is not positive. Our system wouldn’t work”.

Today many people seem to have an opinion to share on livestock farming or sometimes a judgement. Still, very few are actually farmers or indeed have even seen a farm. And such opinions can influence legislators and policymakers. “I think that to make decisions on a farm, you must be well aware that everything is connected – Marije points out – As soon as I put part of my farm into less productive land, I will have fewer numbers on climate change. But you cannot do it without considering the economic and social effects. To those making decisions, I would recommend ensuring that the farmer keeps enough space in each farm and optimizes it instead of setting incompatible goals”.

As the Dutch government is very focused on climate, we asked what kind of support is needed for farmers besides support for reducing emissions? “Support in innovating – Marije answers – Different companies are coming up with innovations that help strengthen the livestock system. Those innovations should be acknowledged so that you can use them. We need money to make investments, and we also need clear goals to achieve. But instead of telling us ‘You must farm like that’, they should say, ‘This is the goal you have to achieve, and this is how you can do it”.

South Africa bans “meaty” denominations for plant-based foods

In a move to protect authentic meat products from “meat sounding” denominations, the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development (DALRRD) in South Africa called for a ban on “meaty” names for plant-based foods. So, terms such as vegetable “meatballs”, vegan “nuggets”, plant-based “ribs”, veggie “biltong”, and vegan “bratwurst”, which explicitly refer to meat products, can no longer be used. This is a significant step forward to protect meat products and consumers, mirroring what has happened with dairy products in Europe.

The marketing of plant-based foods as alternative meat products is, in fact, essentially fraud, to the detriment of consumers. Why? Because plant-based products are not like-for-like copies of animal products, both from a nutritional, sensory and health point of view. DALRRD wrote to processors, retailers and importers of these “fake” products, informing them of the decision and the names of the products concerned, as they did not meet the definition of processed meat in the country. So, according to the Department, words such as “nuggets”, “ribs”, and “biltong” should be reserved exclusively for natural meat products and cannot be used in any way for plant-based foods.

For this reason, the Food Safety Agency has been instructed to remove all plant-based products using names that traditionally refer to animal-based products from shop shelves. This initiative was strongly criticised by Donovan Will, director of ProVeg South Africa, as for him, the regulation disrespects consumers since there is no evidence to show that people are confused by meaty names for plant-based foods. This international food-awareness organisation works to transform the global food system by replacing conventional animal-based products with plant-based and lab-grown alternatives.

This decision in South Africa echoes recent debates on the same subject in Europe. In 2019, while the CAP was voted in Parliament, a significant part of the debates revolved around a single amendment that proposed regulating plant-based denominations. After a caricatured debate punctuated with punchlines, the proposal was defeated in the European Parliament. This debate was an opportunity to see powerful lobbying from ProVeg International and a coalition of major industrialists and NGOs in Brussels. However, in the face of the industrial development of plant-based or laboratory cultured products, the question of what constitutes a “meat alternative” has only just begun, and the debate is as complex as it is exciting.   

France prohibited, almost at the same time, the use of “meaty” denominations to market food made of plant proteins, with considerable penalties in the event of non-compliance. Other European countries are now considering similar approaches, and some have already extended it to non-food misleading alternatives such as “vegan leather” in Portugal, as we highlighted previously.

So, why are so many countries starting to legislate on this, and why is this debate so fundamental? In reality, as marketing professionals know very well, the classic denominations of meat products have a rich universe. They are an easy way to promote certain qualities and properties of the products that would be difficult (and very expensive) to establish through new communication campaigns. The temptation to hijack this heritage is all the more remarkable, as meat denominations have never ‘required’ protection until now, as their success is part of a rich and long history of traditions. In addition, running an aggressive marketing campaign purely around the ‘alternative’ angle means that marketers don’t need to provide information on alternative products’ actual nature or production methods. Both plant-based and cellular copies of meat products are ultra-processed foods with a long list of ingredients that cannot replace meat in terms of nutritional intake.

And this aspect was underlined by the WHO too, which, in a recent factsheet, flagged that many of the plant-based substitutes “also known as analogues, can be defined as ultra-processed foods (UPFs), which means they have a high energy density and tend to be high in sodium, saturated fat and free sugars, and lacking in dietary fibre and vitamins and minerals found in unprocessed foods (including animal-based foods) and minimally processed plant-based foods.” The WHO factsheet warns about potential consequences for population health due to the consumption of those alternatives.

What is evident with the growing trend to mimic natural livestock-derived food products is that the boundaries will become increasingly blurred in the years to come. Undoubtedly, the debate will return to Brussels in the years to come!.   

Following South Africa, France bans meat designations for plant-based products

Last week, France published a decree on “meat sounding” products targeting the marketing of plant-based/cultured imitations in the country. The objective was to bring clarity for consumers to an increasingly confusing market and protect over 300 traditional denominations among the greatest standards of French gastronomy. After a long debate, which counted the European Commission among its detractors, Paris prohibits the use of meat designations such as “Jambon”, “Pâté”, and “Saucisson” to indicate plant-based/lab-grown foods. France is the first country in the European Union to protect its traditional denominations. This decision matters as it could set a case law to be followed by other member states eager to protect their culinary heritage and guarantee transparent information to consumers. This decision is also part of a more global movement: a few days before France, South Africa made the same regulatory adjustment.

The marketing of imitation products proposed as “substitutes” for or “alternatives” to meat foods has increased recently, attracting significant investments from global agri-food groups. This new wave is also accompanied by new marketing campaigns based on opposition or comparison. Some of those campaigns lead consumers to believe that these “substitute” products are healthier and more sustainable for the environment. Claims that are challenged and debated in the academic field.

Plant-based proteins can certainly hold an important place in people’s diet and contribute to its diversity and balance. However, as stated by EFSA in a recent opinion on front-of-pack nutrition labelling and nutrient profiles, plant-based proteins cannot replace meat from a nutritional perspective. Some plant-based imitations are ultra-processed products undergoing deep industrial processes to resemble meat, making their consumption questionable as adverse health effects are being reported. Without a thorough study, health impacts are also questioned regarding cultured meat.

Debates around denominations are not new, contrary to what some would have us believe. In the dairy sector, the use of terms such as “milk”, “butter”, and “cheese” has been banned in the EU for products that are not of animal origin for some years already. On the meat side, the question was raised in 2020 in the context of the CAP reform. The European parliamentarians had decided not to answer the question, leaving it to the member states to settle this issue on a case-by-case basis. It is in this context that the French decision was taken. 

This European inconsistency is now partly reflected in the text adopted in France. In fact, the decree applies only to “Made in France” products. For the leading French farmer organisation, FNSEA, this regulation is therefore not effective enough as it could open the door to imitation imports., The French meat industry association Interbev welcomed implementing the law that was initially adopted in 2020, immediately after the end of the pandemic lockdown.

“This provision is the first step on French territory, a pioneer in the protection of its names, which should be extended at European level,” it said in a statement. But the word “burger” used by many brands, such as the famous US companies Beyond Meat, Impossible Foods and Burger King, to attract consumers, would still be allowed as it does not explicitly refer to meat”, an Interbev spokesperson said.

According to information obtained by the media organisation Context, the European Commission, rather than seeking to harmonise the regulation on the subject between member states, has criticised the French decree. The main arguments mobilised by DG GROW considered that “..the notified project should not make the commercialisation of foodstuffs based on vegetable protein more difficult (…) taking into account the  “Farm to fork” strategy and questions (…) the evaluation and the collection of evidence on deceptive practices“.

Debates on nutritional or environmental benefits aside, it is interesting to note the financial resources mobilised to promote these imitation products. Indeed, this complex issue is here to stay and will remain long on the European agenda. 


The turbulent times we are going through must make us aware of the importance of shoring up our strengths and addressing our weaknesses. Spanish society must be aware of the immense cultural and social heritage provided by family farming and livestock farming, which guarantee food for all in a sustainable, responsible and conscious way.

We are living in turbulent times. Some may say – not without reason – that conflict is inherent in society, in nature and in life itself. The universe is made up of matter, energy and living beings in permanent conflict, imbalance and rebalance. Societies are no exception, and also respond to this convulsive dynamic. But it is true that in recent times, doubts and conflict over different aspects of our lives have been on the rise.

The agri-food system that we have created in the most developed societies over the last few decades has allowed us to enjoy all kinds of food in quantities, varieties and quality guarantees never before seen in the history of mankind. In Spain we have managed to create an exemplary, modern, advanced and competitive agri-food chain, without losing the mainly family farm structure.

Spain is, due to our climate, our agricultural and livestock culture, together with our gastronomic tradition, a powerhouse in food production and distribution. Our primary sector is the basis of much of our country’s success. It is a certainty that our food and our gastronomy have been a vector of success for our tourism or for our most important industrial sector: the food industry.

Agriculture and livestock farming in Spain have been modernised and technified in recent decades in a revolutionary way. Today we produce and export more and better than we did a few decades ago. Rural areas are today as decent a place to live as cities, despite the fact that there is still an urban-rural divide in many respects, and food production continues to underpin the economy and life in rural areas, remaining the main economic activities.

The footprint of food production

Society is increasingly aware of the impact of human activities on the environment. Climate change has risen to the top of the environmental agenda of governments and the media. And as always when there is a problem, we are more concerned with looking for culprits than solutions. There are voices that have decided that farmers and their animals are partly to blame for global warming. This is a great falsehood.

Livestock farming is an ancestral activity, which emerged in Mesopotamia more than 10,000 years ago, closely linked to our evolution as a species, and which allowed the development of modern and advanced human societies. Homo sapiens realised that raising and caring for animals was a very interesting practice to satisfy the most basic need: to feed themselves. Animal husbandry, together with agriculture, facilitated sedentarisation and improved the nutrition and health of prehistoric humans.

Thousands of years later, the situation is quite different: Unstoppable technological and scientific advances in all areas have made more food available to humanity than ever before in history, not to mention the fact that 800 million people in the world are still going hungry because of the misallocation of food production and consumption.

Societies’ concerns and problems vary according to their level of development. In modern societies today, it is no longer the production of food (whether or not there will be enough food for everyone) that is the concern, but the systems used for food production and the environmental impact of food production.

Society’s environmental awareness is much greater today than it was only a few decades ago. Many people are concerned about the state of the planet and make decisions (political, personal or consumer) based on that concern. A concern that, however, is not always well-founded or well-directed, as we all receive so many impacts through the media or social networks that we are largely infoxicated.

What is sustainable?

Nowadays it is not easy to know what is or is not sustainable, although if we think a little, with the help of history and science, it is not difficult to draw conclusions:

– It is logical to think that if Spain has the fourth highest average longevity in the world (WHO, 2022) after Japan, Switzerland and South Korea, our diet, based on the Mediterranean Diet, has elements that contribute greatly to that reality.
– It is logical to think that a balanced diet, which includes foods of all kinds, with a predominance of fruit and vegetables and which does not rule out any type of meat, fish, dairy products or eggs, contributes to the good development and good health of the population.
– It is logical to think that the majority of farms in Spain, which are small and medium-sized and based on a family structure, seek, by definition, generational replacement and respect for the environment in which they are developed.
– Environmental sustainability must go hand in hand with economic and social sustainability: if livestock farmers do not obtain a return on their activity, they will be forced to abandon it, and the problem of depopulation and the demographic challenge in rural areas will worsen.
– Extensive or semi-extensive livestock farming, practised to a large extent in Spain, is a good example of a circular economy and a sustainable relationship with the environment. Animals grazing in meadows, pastures and farmland feed on a resource that would be difficult to use otherwise.
– Small and medium sized livestock farming is also sustainable, by properly managing energy consumption or the by-products generated in the form of manure, which can and should be put to much better use, to fertilise fields or to generate energy.

To be sustainable is, in short, to produce today without risking tomorrow’s production. This is essential in a world where the population and its needs are growing all the time. Do we have to produce less to do this? No. We have to produce and consume better. The key is efficiency and all the links in the food chain, from producers to consumers, can do more to achieve it.

The majority production model in Spain, based on small and medium-sized family farms, is sustainable by nature. In most cases, several generations of the same family work and live off the farm. We producers carry out our work on a land that is ours, and we protect and care for it because it gives us so much back.

Evolution without exclusion

Food production, like all aspects of society, never stops evolving. We, the small family farmers and stockbreeders, are clear that the agriculture and stockbreeding of the future will be more sustainable, more modern and more technified, but without losing a foot in a productive tradition that has enormous advantages. There are examples of age-old practices such as transhumance or organic production, the advantages of which are increasingly being highlighted.

What is not so clear is whether we will come out of this evolution “alive”, which is unstoppable, but whose path is made by walking and whose costs, both social and economic, we must carefully analyse in order to protect the most vulnerable and at the same time the most necessary: the small producers.

There are speculators who are rubbing their hands with the idea of a food chain without farmers or breeders, with large synthetic meat production plants, for example, controlled by the same investors who control the industrial or distribution groups. We must strongly oppose this trend.

Society must be aware of food production systems and be proud of them. European society must know that it has the best food system in the world, with standards of excellence, safety, variety, quality and sustainability that are unique in the world.

Food culture

There is a key element that is not usually talked about when we talk about food production and consumption and yet it is fundamental: food culture. People live in a historical and social context and there is knowledge, ideas, traditions and customs that characterise, guide and unite people. It is clear that we belong to a tradition, Mediterranean and European, inseparable from the historical advances that have marked us over the centuries.

Food marks us, as a society and as individuals. Eating should not be an obligation, but a pleasure. A sustainable, responsible and conscious pleasure. Linked to a more social and natural way of life. In the case of Spain, we also have a very clear and pleasurable reference: the Mediterranean Diet which, without being the only one that can be followed, is probably the best.

Let us enjoy a varied and balanced consumption of cereals, pulses, potatoes, vegetables, fruit, dairy products, eggs, meat of all species (poultry, sheep, goats, cattle, rabbits and pigs), fish and seafood, nuts, olive oil and, in the case of adults, washed down with a good wine. All of this should be accompanied by daily physical exercise and active, healthy, face-to-face social relations. Only in this way will we achieve a long and full life and a more sustainable and respectful relationship with our environment.

Source: Union of Small Farmers and Stockbreeders (UPA), Somos Ganaderìa ELV Spain

Carbon Farming: behind the concept, what are the concrete opportunities for livestock farming?

Carbon farming is a new buzzword these days in Brussels, but what are we really talking about? In short, most people joining in the buzz around carbon farming are talking about a range of agricultural practices aimed at sequestering atmospheric carbon into the soil and in crop roots, wood and leaves. All plants contribute to carbon sequestration by taking CO2 from the air and growing roots, shoots and leaves.

But carbon farming should not be limited to sequestering carbon only. There are a lot of practices currently taking place on farms that could be considered for their contribution to avoid emissions. For example, preventing the loss of already stored carbon and emissions reductions efforts, which contribute to limiting emissions created by work on farms. For this reason, carbon farming understood in a comprehensive approach could represent an opportunity to mitigate climate change.

According to the latest public study commissioned by the European Parliament in 2021, additional EU carbon farming mitigation potential ranges between 101-444 Mt CO2-e per year, equivalent to approximately 3-12% of the EU’s total annual GHG emissions. It implies that carbon farming could offset 26% of the EU’s agricultural yearly emissions even at the low end of its estimated potential.

These figures remain general estimates only at this stage. They will greatly depend on the type of mechanisms and schemes put in place by public and private operators and the popularity and success of these schemes among the agricultural community. The European Commission expects carbon farming to contribute 42Mt of CO2 storage by 2030, making agriculture a key strategic sector for achieving its “Fit for 55” strategy.

Practices can increase the rate of carbon sequestered into soil and plant material to create a net loss of carbon from the atmosphere. But, behind the concept, what concrete opportunities and operational mechanisms can there be for livestock farming and its role in tackling climate change?

Agriculture and especially livestock farming can be key contributors to the climate neutrality goal. Livestock can naturally reduce carbon emissions by capturing CO2, where emissions come from the atmosphere as only a few other sectors could. For instance, the graph below shows an evaluation made by the Life Beef Carbon Project of the analysis of thousand EU beef farmers considered in the project.

In particular, grazing livestock can help store increased levels of carbon in the soil in higher quantities than their methane emissions. Indeed, cattle grazing increases the amount of carbon stored in grassland soils by encouraging the plant to produce more roots and absorb more CO2. For this reason, it is a priority to promote the adoption of climate-friendly practices in the agricultural, forestry and livestock sectors to take action on climate and contribute to the European Green Deal.

Effective carbon farming practices include increasing and protecting carbon sinks, like grazing agricultural lands and open grasslands. Maintaining good management practices of grazing lands can improve carbon capture in pasture soil. For example, a leguminous plant is identified in the Life Beef Carbon Project as the most concrete and cost-effective option. 

Good management strategies can also increase root systems to make grasslands more efficient at storing carbon. It is also good practice to encourage afforestation and reforestation, respect biodiversity and promote the adaptation of forests to climate change.

Planting hedgerows and trees to help sequester carbon while improving soil and livestock management to increase soil carbon capture can significantly reduce the total carbon footprint. Livestock management offers several opportunities to enhance carbon sequestration. For example, the European livestock sector is improving carbon capture from the methane output of cattle or within the soil of fields for crops or zootechnical use. Crops and grazing rotation where livestock are moved regularly to fresh pastures avoids overgrazing, and grass and crops have the opportunity to restock soil carbon and nutrients. So, the soil can recover its fertility and grass and crops can grow again without additional fertiliser.

As enteric fermentation contributes to emissions, reductions through changes in animal feeding is also possible by improving feed efficiency or adding specific feed ingredients. Methane-reducing feed additives and supplements inhibit the rumen’s methanogens and mitigate enteric methane emissions. They can be natural supplements and compounds, such as tannins and seaweed, or fats and oils. Feeding one type of seaweed as 3% of their diet has resulted in up to 80% reduction in methane emissions from cattle. Fats and oils show the most potential for practical application to farming systems and have shown 15–20% in methane emission reductions.

GHGs emissions reduction can also be achieved through animal genetics, too: genetic improvement is a crucial tool for improved efficiency of the animals as well as disease resilience. This leads to a reduction in the total number of animals required to meet a given production level. So, the more productive a herd you have, the less emissions you produce.

Various carbon capture technologies can also help reduce carbon concentrations in the environment. For example, anaerobic digestion recycling is ideal for reducing the carbon footprint of livestock by producing natural fuel and compost. Utilising slurry for anaerobic digestion or manure spreading can reduce the carbon footprint. The biogas produced from slurry can be used as biofuel for heating and energy production systems, replacing polluting fossil fuels. In this way, it is possible to simultaneously reduce the carbon emitted for transport. Similarly, the solid digestate can be used as a natural fertiliser, which is beneficial for soils and valuable for organic farming.

These innovative practices show that livestock farming can create many opportunities and concrete operational mechanisms to reduce greenhouse gas emissions significantly.

Farmers are investing currently, but costs are not always covered or rewarded by the market. More coherence is needed as well as policy support to encourage and help farmers implement all these practices to fight climate change together.


Animal welfare: science-based evidence must prevail over emotions

The European Commission has been promoting animal welfare for over 40 years, constantly improving the conditions of farm animals. Animal welfare is a priority for food safety, animals and people’s health, and sustainable food production. The European Union has developed a solid and science-based legislative model on animal welfare through the years, as adapting to progress in this field is important. Still, it seems that emotional convictions are influencing not just public opinion but also the legislative process today.

The European Commission is revising the animal welfare legislation to align with the latest scientific evidence,  current political priorities and public expectations under the EU Farm to Fork strategy. The revision is welcomed by many as an opportunity to update EU animal welfare rules, increase the role of recent science-based analysis, broaden their scope and make them easier to enforce, generally raising the level of animal welfare in the EU. That’s clearly a great idea, but we should not forget that the EU is already recognised as having some of the highest standards for animal welfare in the world!

Alongside laying down minimum standards for the safety of laying hens, broilers, pigs and calves,  the review includes development of specific welfare requirements for different animal species, the prohibition of tail-docking of pigs, the phasing out of the use of cages and finally a review of the regulations on the protection of animals during transport and at the time of the slaughtering.

Again, some good ideas and initiatives that are widely supported by animal enthusiasts, but there  contradictions often arise between the call for more “ethical” practices and what people actually choose or look for when buying food. When it comes to purchasing, people still generally go for the cheapest option foregoing any claims of higher welfare.

This is what the Special Eurobarometer survey on ‘Making our food fit for the future’ revealed. Aimed at uncovering what factors influence food buying and eating habits, it was reported that animal welfare is not the top concern when people buy food. Taste (45%), food safety (42%) and cost (40%) are the main factors influencing Europeans’ food purchases, while one in three consider where the food comes from (34%) or its nutrient content (33%). Only 16% of the European respondents mentioned their ethics and beliefs as being important when purchasing food.

Also, the BEUC survey on attitudes of European consumers on the transition towards sustainable food revealed that they tend to underestimate animal welfare. On average, consumers tend to associate “sustainable food” with “low environmental impact” (48.6%), “use of GMOs and pesticides to be avoided” (42.6%) and “local supply chains” (34.4%). A quarter of respondents associate “sustainable food” with “minimally processed and traditional” food. Other elements such as “healthy”, “fair revenue for farmers”, and “high animal welfare standards” primarily come to mind only for a fifth of respondents.

So, although another Eurobarometer on Animal Welfare shows that more than nine in ten EU respondents believe it is important to protect the welfare of farmed animals (94%), how does that translate when it comes to food purchasing? The same survey shows more than a third of respondents (35%) saying they are prepared to pay up to 5% more, while only a small minority (3%) are ready to pay more than 20% for products sourced from animal welfare-friendly production systems. And we still have more than a third of EU citizens (35%) who say they are not ready to pay more. Food purchasing priorities clearly remain quite disparate and awareness of efforts made on farms to improve animal welfare remain largely unknown or ignored by the general public.

It is clear that during the revision it is important to consult with a wide range of parties but science-based evidence must prevail over emotions. And financial considerations of what changes may imply should not be forgotten or overlooked. When it comes to animal welfare we can’t just consider what makes us humans feel good, but what makes sense for animals in different farming systems, and what it can mean for food pricing. Animals must be respected as sentient beings, always. But for what they are, not for what we think or would like them to be.

“Cultured meat”: A media story with little regard for academic debate?

Since the launch of “Cultured Meat” a decade ago with the presentation on screens of the first “lab-grown burger”, the media interest around this agri-food technology has never waned. This to the extent that researchers have been interested in measuring this craze: in 2020 alone, more than 12,000 publications were referring to this subject! However, over the same period of time, proportionally few scientific articles dealt with the issue – around 300. A disconnection rarely observed for the academic that studied this phenomenon “giving a biased image of the debate”. Media hype around “cultured meat” has also resulted paradoxically in silencing part of the scientific debate about the real impact of this technology. A recently published scientific review provides a comprehensive overview of the actual academic knowledge around “cultured meat”. An opportunity to look at the actual state of the academic debate on the subject.

Limitations related to the production process

On reading this review, it is striking to note the important limitations in the production process  of “cultured meat”. It starts from the method that needs a biopsy of a piece of muscle from a live animal to get living stem cells. Consequently,as these samples have to be taken relatively regularly, this raises new ethical and welfare questions.

These cells can proliferate and then transform into different cells, such as muscle cells and fat cells. But to do that, a culture medium must provide nutrients, hormones, and growth factors necessary for cell proliferation and differentiation in mature tissue.

The culture medium typically used is foetal bovine serum taken from the foetus after slaughtering pregnant cows. Due to the ethical questions this practice raises, many companies have committed to substituting the foetal bovine serum with an artificial serum. But according the the authors of the review those synthetic mediums have some difficulties in determining the exact concentrations of each serum component, which must be suitable and well adapted to each type of cell and its stage of development. At present time none of those synthetic medium has been presented and discussed within the scientific community.

While synthetic hormones are necessary for the proliferation of cells, the promoters of “cultured meat” are facing a problem in Europe: hormones are forbidden in the Union. This also partly explains why Singapore is, for the moment, one of the only states to have authorised the commercialisation of this technology.  

“Cultured meat” producers present it as safer than conventional meat because it is produced in a fully controlled environment without any potential contamination. Hence they call it a sterile product, free from any health hazard. “Lab-grown meat” is not free from contaminations. Indeed, an issue with culturing cells is their potential contamination by pathogenic bacteria, viruses, or fungi. For this reason, antibiotics and fungiside could also be needed in the culture medium. For the authors of the review “the lack of in-depth research related to the hazard and risk characterisation of cultured meat is considered the biggest barrier in introducing a safe product to the market“.

Limitations related to health and taste

From a celestial perspective, natural meat is actually a complex food, more difficult to reproduce than an agglomeration of celestial and fatty tissue. According to the author of the review, it is unclear how close the levels of macronutrients and micronutrients of “cultured meat” are to those of traditional meat. It is likely that “lab-grown meat” lacks or is deficient in essential nutrients that are difficult to reproduce artificially, such as iron, zinc and vitamin B12. Any ingredient such as trace elements or micronutrients added in vitro will likely reduce nutritional qualities. It is not provided in its original matrix and is potentially less absorbed.

Indeed, the artificial chemical components of the culture medium or the biomaterials of cultured meat could have an inhibitory effect on the health benefits of some micronutrients, such as iron.

Another crucial point is that “in vitro meat” lacks myoglobin and pleasing aromas and flavour compounds of real meat that appear during the aging process. That is why many ingredients such as breadcrumbs, beetroot juice, saffron and egg powder have been added to mimic the sensory quality of meat in terms of taste and red colour. If researches are numerous, cultured meat promoters are still a long way from being able to find the diversity of meat products on the market and their grill, roast or boil properties. That is why the main products presented are still only minced meat copies such as “burgers” or “nuggets”.

Limitations related to initial sustainable claims

Contrary to what its advocates say, “cultured meat” sustainability claims are questionned. Reducing methane emissions is presented as one of the “cultured meat’s” most important potential benefits. According to academics, the comparison between the environmental impacts of cultured and conventional meats is incomplete and sometimes biased. Firstly, because there are still only few real “cultured meat” installations on which to base studies, and secondly, because of the way in which emissions from livestock farming can be compared with emissions from “cultured meat” plants.  A recent study concluded that global warming would be less with “cultured meat” than with cattle in the short term, but that in the long term, “cultured meat” would be more harmful, as methane accumulates less time in the atmosphere than CO2 produced by lab grown meat factories.

The bioreactors in which cells proliferate are, in fact, very energy intensive, with high emissions of CO2. Regarding water, the consumption is very similar since it is now clarified that to produce 1 kg of beef, 550 litres of freshwater are required on average. In contrast, 459 litres are needed per kilogram of pork and 313 litres per kilogram of chicken. “Lab-grown meat” consumes about 367 to 521 litres per kilogram, so the water footprint is practically the same.

Regarding land use, the fact that “cultured meat” needs less land than conventional meat is also not an advantage. Livestock farming plays a key role by valorising flows of non-consumable plant biomass, producing high nutritional value feed from them then transformed into high quality proteins for humans, and maintaining soil’s carbon content and fertility. Manure from livestock is a source of organic matter, nitrogen, and phosphorus, working as a natural fertiliser key to reduce synthetic fertilizer uses.

If livestock were replaced by “artificial meat”, some ecosystem services would be lost, and the production of by-products from farm animals useful in feed, health, fashion, pharmaceuticals and cosmetics, and the production of bioenergy. Not to mention the families that depend on livestock for survival, particularly in developing countries and that still represents 45% of EU agriculture. Like any technology, “cultured meat” will be subject to intellectual property rights, as opposed to an open system like our European family farming model.

The need for a debate based on facts rather than marketing

“Cultured meat” is a subject that rightly interests people and innovations are numerous in this field. However, this should be done on a rational basis and in a fair manner. In this respect, talking about “meat” is already a problem in itself for agronomists, as tissue replication does not technically make “meat”. On the other hand, there is still a lack of studies on the subject at all levels – health, environmental and technical. In the end, the promotion of these alternatives by large groups, start-ups or NGOs should not be done by a marketing of opposition to livestock but by promoting the real advantages of the products they tend to promote!      

49% of UK Gen Z ashamed to consume animal products in public

Gen-z in the UK ashamed of consuming milk and animal products in public

Half of Gen Z in the UK is ashamed to consume animal products in public. This is what emerged from a survey commissioned by the Danish dairy farmer cooperative Arla on the attitude of consumers toward a sustainable diet. While 75% of participants said they are concerned about the future of our planet, only 12% of respondents consider the “environmental impact of food alone” when purchasing food/drink. Arla’s report also reveals that 49% of UK shoppers are willing to make “big changes” to their diets based on what they read on social media, with 34% admitting to making choices based “purely” on information they read on social networks.

As two in five consumers are not entirely sure what makes a “sustainable diet”, the information found on social media tends to have a decisive influence on their opinion forming. What the Arla study shows clearly is that those “opinions” are becoming a stronger driver in purchasing decisions, more than information about food production or indications on product quality. Consequently, the authors noticed a lot of confusion about what makes the food really “sustainable”. 54% of people think that sustainable diets include locally sourced food. 41% believe that replacing animal protein with plant-based alternatives is the right choice to be more sustainable, while 27% of people said that the right thing to do is to cut animal source foods entirely from their diet, and 65% claim to feel “pressured to” but don’t want to give up dairy.

Gen Z, including people born from the late 1990s to the 2010s, appears to be the most significantly influenced. 55% of Gen Z respondents used social media to inform themselves of their dietary decisions. With the “cancel culture” operating on these networks, authors concluded that this has led to a literal fear of consuming animal products in front of others. 49% of Gen Z-ers feel ashamed to order dairy in public, with 29% saying they chose “alternative” milk in front of their peers and revert to dairy at home.

In commenting on these results, Arla argued not to cancel dairy, explaining that, “having a positive environmental impact is not as simple as cancelling food groups entirely”. As Graham Wilkinson, Senior Group Agriculture Director at Arla explained, consumers should look at the issue in all its complexity, from food security to rural livelihoods, as farmers are doing their best to reduce emissions and are a resource in protecting the environment. Arla says their farmers already produce milk with half the global average emissions, and according to Arla’s climate checks programme, they will reduce their emissions even further.

According to Arla, farmers can reduce their carbon footprint significantly thanks to a better feed efficiency to improve milk yields, precision feeding to give the animal the right amount of nutrients avoiding surplus and waste, more efficient land use and better animal health and welfare. Also, by implementing slurry application techniques, already used by 53% of farmers in the UK, emissions can be reduced by 30-90%.

According to Debbie Wilkins, an Arla farmer in Gloucestershire, the image of dairy farmers on social media is often misrepresented and misunderstood, “When this starts to play a role in our decision-making process, particularly regarding our health and well-being, we must take a step back and look at the whole picture. The ‘all or nothing’ attitude that so many groups and brands are pushing is not always necessary. It’s important to use the natural nutrition available to us rather than relying heavily on processed foods. As an important part of our farming heritage, farmers are committed to nature, from protecting biodiversity to acting as beacons of local communities and providing quality, natural and affordable nutrition to the nation. All food production will create emissions, but it’s important to consider the nutritional value of the foods and how it supports the natural environment.” Debbie Wilkins concludes.

Animal rights activists didn’t pay the money promised

Do you remember the Danish chickens? The story about noise vs transparency and promises vs actions? A quick recap: last November, the animal rights association Anima promised 500,000 Danish kroner to the farmer who dared to open the doors of his farm to show their animals. The chicken breeder Solveig Nõrmark and her husband Jens Kristian accepted with pleasure the challenge at the initiative of the Danish Agriculture & Food Council, opening the doors of their chicken coop. They proudly showed their reality 24 hours a day via live webcams, streaming from their chicken farm for 34 days, more than 800 hours.

Despite the evidence, the animal rights activists finally decided to pay a tiny part of the promised compensation: only 50,000 Danish kroner. The 500,000 were supposed to go to the children of the Christmas stamp homes at Julemærkehjemmene, while now they will receive just 30,000 kroner. The remaining 20,000 will be given to the OASA animal rights organization that had a legal dispute with Danish Agriculture & Food Council.

According to what Anima stated in a press release, the initiative of the Danish Agriculture & Food Council to broadcast live to the public what is happening in the chicken coop was appreciated. Still, they said they had some doubts about transparency. “The initiative lands a good distance away from what we called for”, comments Thorbjõrn Schiõnning, communications manager at Anima: “We want to go all the way into the barn and record up close and follow the individual chicken. That is why our original offer with a bounty of half a million kroner for free access is still in force”.

Martin Hjort Jensen, chairman of Danish Agriculture and Food, Poultry, disagrees: “We are very sorry that they [Anima] ended up with DKK 30,000 on behalf of the Christmas Stamp Foundation and the children”. The breeder Solveig Nõrmark who opened her chicken farm to Anima is also disappointed: “I have never done it for the sake of the bounty, but I would like to hope that the Christmas stamp homes had received the bounty of 500,000 kroner. It is an excellent cause and a place with a good need for money”.

“We have proudly, openly, and unedited shown the reality via live streaming from a broilers house for 34 days, that is, for more than 800 hours of film“, says Henrik Søndergaard Nielsen from the Danish Agriculture & Food Council: “The live streaming showed the chickens in two different angles. One closeup in the height of a chicken and one giving an overview of the stable. Furthermore, we showed the data related to the stable, water – and feed consumption and the total number of chickens in the stable by the day. We have brought facts to the fore, but the question is whether Anima was interested in facts or just wanted a marketing stunt. That they will now give DKK 30,000, the 6 per cent of the bounty, says it all. We don’t see why Anima is still offering a bounty of DKK 500.000 as we have already provided the public with the best access possible. Maybe the proper conditions that we have streamed unedited did not meet their predefined false picture of modern chicken farming?”

The truth is that animal rights activism is essentially just a megabusiness. They look like moderate and non-profit associations aiming to improve the welfare of animals, but their actual goals go much deeper, with extreme forms of activism. All animal rights extremist organizations have the same goal of eliminating animal agriculture and taking meat, milk, poultry, and eggs off our tables. They also finance projects supported with a lot of funding. To mention a few examples, some of the most active groups bring in more than $650 million in income annually. The flow of funds connects these organizations through sponsorships and grants awarded to one another.

PETA, for example, is connected to the extreme group Direct Action Everywhere (DXE) as a sponsor of DXE’s 2021 Animal Liberation Conference. They use the farm “rescues,” where activists will openly trespass onto a farm and steal an animal with the support of PETA. Also, Animal Liberation Front (ALF) is one of the most extreme groups, identified as a “domestic terrorist” by the FBI. Their actions include breaking, releasing animals, and destroying property. Sensitive organizations like HSUS recruit vandals involved in ALF. No matter the organization’s public appearance, most animal rights groups chase the same goal and support each other, including destruction, harassment, trespassing, and stealing. From Danish Children’s charities, too?

REPowerEU: EU recognises key role of European livestock farming in our energy independence

With the escalation of tensions following the war in Ukraine, the EU needs to break its energy dependency on Russian gas. These days, the energy markets are soaring, bringing the gas prices to record values while its availability remains in the hands of Russian authorities. Among the EU fossil fuel dependency from Russia, gas is the worst, with imports counting over 45% of our total consumption. A rapid transition to clean gas – in every meaning of the word – has never been so urgent, both for our sovereignty and the climate.

Faced with the need for swift action, the European Commission has presented the REPowerEU communication last week ahead of the Versailles summit. This communication represents the second European response to the energy crisis, updating, so to speak, the much publicised “Fit for 55” strategy of summer 2021. The aim is to support the diversification of energy supplies, accelerate the transition to renewable energy, and improve energy efficiency in the shortest time possible.

Executive Vice-President Timmermans set the objective to reduce imported gas from Russia by 2/3 by the end of the year. In this regard, the logical solution is to push the accelerator on renewable energy starting with biomethane and clean hydrogen production. In addition to doubling the target on renewable hydrogen production, heat pumps, wind, and solar energy, one of the critical pillars of the strategy is to multiply biomethane production by ten times in a few years. By doing so, the EU has the potential to replace 20% of the current natural gas imports from Russia by a sustainable, cheaper, and locally produced alternative.

Biomethane, as part of the biogas production, is obtained by the ‘digestion’ of organic materials, such as manure, organic waste, or agricultural residues. Today the EU produces 3 billion cubic metres (bcm) of biomethane. Scaling-up to 35 bcm as announced requires the mobilisation of sustainable biomass feedstock, mostly waste and residues. According to the European Biogas Association figures; manure mobilisation from livestock represents the greatest potential for a sustainable increase of biomethane production by 2030 as far as – up to 45%! 30% of sustainably mobilised residues would come from the rest of the agricultural sector while a limited share of the future production could come from the management of our food waste (5%) and industrial wastewater (8%). In other words, the biomethane produced by livestock farms is becoming a strategic priority within the 2030 horizon.

However, to reach this potential, a silent revolution will have to take place on our farms. The European Biogas Association estimates that we will need to build about 5,000 new biomethane plants!  This objective is feasible if we consider that Germany alone has built 6,000 plants in 9 years. . From a technical perspective, experts estimate that it would be feasible within the next eight years. A quick fix which would also be easier and cost effective is to equip existing biogas installations (representing a 17 bcm biogas production output today) with methanation units. One of the main obstacles for the farming community is often the lengthy administrative procedures before such facilities can be set up. The Commission has announced in its communication that it will make efforts to reduce the time needed to obtain permits.

The stakes are therefore enormous, and the benefits for society could be manifold. Developing biomethane solutions would be cost-effective as the €83 billion needed for the biomethane upscale by 2030, would be money fuelled directly into our domestic economy. It allows us to produce biomethane at a cost that is considerably lower than the natural gas price over the past several months, even without taking the CO2 price into account.

Finally, biomethane and biogas production helps to reduce exposure to food price volatility. In fact, gas is obtained from a feedstock, placed inside a digester, a silo for the degradation of the organic substance. During the biogas production process, we obtain a nutrient rich product called digestate. This can be used as a fertiliser which could help partly break the dependency on Russian synthetic fertiliser imports. On top of that, digestate as organic fertliser, prevents the use of natural gas for the production of chemical fertlisers, reducing dependency on natural gas and at the same time avoiding considerable amounts of GHG emissions. Considering that Russia is the world’s leading exporter of fertilisers, with more than 50 million tonnes of fertiliser a year, 13% of the world total, boosting the digestate from livestock farming is an unmissable opportunity.

Once again, here is another excellent reason why the EU should preserve its livestock and animal production. Indeed, more than ever before, the EU’s livestock and animal production must be valued and enhanced as an essential tool to achieve energy, self-sufficiency and to accelerate the green transition. To reduce emissions and the dependence on fossil fuel imports, protect against rising prices and make a valuable contribution against climate change, adding new impetus to the objectives of the European Green Deal.

European livestock farming shouldering its responsibility to keep antibiotics working

Veterinary care on livestock farm

European farmers and veterinarians are making great efforts to reduce the need to use antibiotics. They have been very successful so far. The livestock sector has made great strides to limit the use of antibiotics and make a valuable contribution to ensuring the responsible use of antibiotics. But further efforts are needed from all sectors to ensure a “One Health” response to addressing antimicrobial resistance (AMR). Any restrictions to use of antibiotics for livestock in order to protect human health must remain science-based so as not to endanger animal health and welfare. According to ECDC 75% of AMR-related infections come from hospitals and health facilities. Clearly, even if we stopped all antibiotic use in animals, the impact on the human antimicrobial resistance problem would not be significant.

This is why calling for ever more restrictive policies on antibiotic use for animals is non-sensical, especially in the EU where 94% of Eurobarometer respondents say it’s important to protect the welfare of farmed animals.

Recently, the FVE (Federation of Veterinarians of Europe) took note of such calls in a report titled ‘Ending Routine farm antibiotic use in Europe’, published by the EPHA (European Public Health Alliance). This report spreads an unfounded assumption – some might say fake news – that farmers will not adopt the new rules on antibiotic use. The FVE reacted to this report, highlighting the many initiatives taken over the last 15 years for combatting the emergence of antibiotic resistance and the preservation of effective antibiotics for people and animals.

The target proposed in the EPHA report to set a maximum level of 30 mg/kg per population correction unit (PCU) to be later decreased to 15 mg/kg PCU is not only unscientific, it’s also unrealistic, as in every country, there are differences in the occurrence and spread of bacterial diseases, animal population, etc. Animals, when needed, deserve treatment, just like people. When they get sick, animals have the right to be treated in the best possible way to avoid unnecessary suffering. In this context, antibiotics remain the only solution for treating bacterial infections in animals, just as in people. And it should always be up to the veterinarian to decide the optimum way to administer medication, which remains under veterinary control and prescription.

It is necessary to use antibiotics more sparingly in all areas to address the rise in antimicrobial resistance. Still, this challenge requires coordinated, strategic and scientific action with a One Health approach. The EU regulation on veterinary medicines, approved more than two years ago by the European Parliament, takes strict measures to reduce the use of antibiotics to protect both animal and public health. This is promoted by the Commission to be an effective tool to help achieve the “Farm to Fork” strategy goal of reducing by 50% antibiotic sales by 2030.

The efforts made so far in the livestock sector in Europe are widely recognised and measurable. Animal health and welfare standards are higher in the EU than anywhere else in the world. The EU has stringent inspections on residues of veterinary medicines and contaminants in animal source food and an overall monitoring system, which show a compliance of the sector with all safety standards close to 100%. The veterinarian’s responsibility is to assess the farm animal’s health, diagnose, and prescribe the correct treatment, just as medical doctors do for people. Awareness in farmers and veterinarians of the damage caused by the abuse of antibiotics has been increasing over the past years. In 2005, the European Platform for the Responsible Use of Medicines in Animals – EPRUMA was created in synergy with veterinarians, farmers and the animal health industry. Since then, sales of veterinary antibiotics have fallen by more than 43%.

ESVAC report 2020

In fact the EMA’s recent ESVAC report showed an overall 43.2% drop in sales of veterinary antibiotics since 2011. And these efforts extend not only to the amounts of antibiotics used for animal health purposes but also to the classes of antibiotics used. The report shows a significant decrease in sales of veterinary antibiotics considered important from the medical point of view: 32.8% for third and fourth generation cephalosporins; 76.5% for polymyxins, 12.8% for fluoroquinolones and 85.4% for other quinolones.

That is why an even more stringent ban on antibiotics in animals than scientifically judged will have little effect on antibiotic resistance resolution. On the contrary, there is a high risk of a counterproductive effect. Dependence on a strictly limited number of antibiotics to treat animals’ infections will increase the pressure on bacteria, accelerating resistance to those few antibiotics available.

The new EU rules on veterinary medicines in force since January 2022 establish some new restrictions on the use of antibiotics. For example, all antibiotics for animals remain prescription-only throughout the EU, but the new rules are more explicit on prescriptions for preventive use. Preventive use remains prohibited, except for a single animal or a limited number of animals, in cases where the risk of infection is very high and the consequences are severe. The new current laws are also maintaining the ban on antibiotics to promote growth, in force since 2006.

Antibiotics may not be used on all the herd, but only to treat a limited group of animals, also when the group’s risk of spreading infectious disease is high, and no alternatives are available. The use of antibiotics should be limited to cover the risk of infection and only after the veterinarian’s diagnosis. A key initiative in the new law is the creation of a list of antibiotics reserved for human health, published on the basis of the EMA’s scientific advice.  The new legislation also states that restrictions on antibiotics and the ban on the use of treatments classified as essential for human health will also apply to producers in third countries exporting animals or animal source foods to the EU.

To ensure further efforts to keep antibiotics working European veterinarians and farmers require support to maximise preventive approaches, such as vaccination, selective breeding, good nutrition, including the use of specialty feed ingredients to support animals’ defences against biological stressors for optimal health and higher resilience to stressors, environmental hygiene, biosecurity measures, monitoring for signs of infection and the use of diagnostic tools. It is also important in this context to explore the potential of new genomic techniques.

The best way forward is through recognising that the health of people, animals and the environment are closely connected and must be addressed collectively. But the “One Health” concept is often misunderstood, as this does not mean subordinating animal health to public health by only looking at how health challenges in animals will impact people.

The strong commitment of the livestock sector to improve the health and welfare of farm animals has led to the implementation of best practices, with significant progress in many European countries. Raising awareness and collaboration with stakeholders, monitoring antibiotics effectiveness, and the need to use them has achieved a marked reduction in antibiotic use in animals. The 2019 European Court of Auditors report on AMR recognised the progress already made in the animal sector, and the multi-stakeholder platform EPRUMA (European Platform for Responsible Use of Medicines in Animals) says the European livestock sector continues to work on further reducing the need for antibiotics. Only in this way can we strengthen the responsible use of antibiotics for animal health and play a part in addressing the challenge of antimicrobial resistance.

Opinion piece from Somos Ganaderia on #MenosCarneMásVida

(See original opinion in Spanish)

21 July 2021 – The interbranch meat organisations of Spain, representing hundreds of thousands of livestock farmers, as well as companies, workers and experts throughout Spain in the livestock and meat sectors, have joined forces to express our outrage at the #MenosCarneMásVida (in Spanish: ‘less meat, more life’) campaign, which is smearing the entire livestock and meat sectors.

It is concerning to see misleading or vague claims being made through public channels, in an attempt to pit everyone against the livestock and meat sectors, which play a key socioeconomic role in our country. According to the FAO, our sector generates in excess of 2.5 million jobs in Spain alone and almost 9 billion euros in exports, bolstering the country’s balance of trade.

Using data in such a self-serving way –considering there is an abundance of data available from the Spanish Government itself, in addition to official consumption data from the Spanish Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food; or data from the Spanish Ministry for the Ecological Transition and the Demographic Challenge’s National Greenhouse Gas Inventory– is irresponsible.

The sector that we represent will continue its awareness-raising efforts and advocacy work by presenting hard evidence, such as the following:

● When claims are made about how overconsumption of meat has led to an increase in cardiovascular disease, diabetes and even some types of cancer, it must be made crystal clear that all global indicators show Spain’s diet and lifestyle to be among the best in the world, positioning our country as a global leader in this regard, as you can see below:

  • Spain is the healthiest country in the world (according to the Bloomberg Healthiest Country Index).
  • Spain is the country with the highest life expectancy in the world (according to the IHME at the University of Washington and the authoritative scientific journal ‘The Lancet’).
  • Spain is the country with the highest life expectancy in the European Union (according to the European Commission report entitled ‘State of Health in the EU 2019’).
  • Spain has a cancer rate well below the average out of all OECD countries (according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) study entitled ‘Health at Glance 2019’).

● When claims are made about how 15,000 litres of water are required to produce 1 kg of meat, it should be made crystal clear that 90% of the water used in meat production is ‘green water’, i.e. rainwater, and there would still be rainfall even if there were no animals; only 10% is ‘blue water’ or ‘grey water’, which is much less than what goes into numerous crops.

● When claims are made about how 14.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) come from livestock, it is paramount to emphasise the following:

  • Livestock and manure production account for only 5.8% of emissions (Climate Watch and World Resources Institute, Our World in Data. Oxford University. 2020).
  • Energy use, whether in the form of electricity or heat, or whether as part of transport or industrial processes, accounts for the majority (74%) of greenhouse gas emissions. The global food system, which encompasses post-harvest production and processes such as processing and supply, accounts for the remaining 26% of emissions. In addition, of that 26%, livestock and fisheries account for only one third [of emissions] (Joseph Poore and Thomas Nemecek. Science, 2018).
  • Out of all greenhouse gas emissions from livestock in the world, 80% come from developing countries (FAO, 2017). When we look at the overall emissions landscape, it is necessary to have a global and not an EU-centred approach so that our contributions to climate change mitigation may be properly considered.
  • Emission intensity (CO2 eq/kg meat) varies between different parts of the world. In our region, i.e. Western Europe, we have one of the lowest emission intensity rates in the world (FAO, 2017). Our production systems are highly efficient in the way we use and manage animal feed and animal health. As a result, we produce fewer emissions per unit of final product.
  • According to official data from the Spanish Ministry for the Ecological Transition and the Demographic Challenge’s National Greenhouse Gas Inventory, livestock meat production in Spain accounts for only 7.8% of total GHG emissions in our country. In contrast, transport accounts for 27% of these emissions, followed by industrial sectors (19.9%), power generation (17.8%), fuel consumption (8.5%) or industrial processes and use of other products (8%), as per data from the Spanish Ministry for the Ecological Transition and the Demographic Challenge [in Spanish: MITECO], 2020.
  • Significantly, methane produced in farming accounts for about 27% of the total methane emitted globally. This methane goes into a biogenic cycle where it is broken down and transformed into CO2 and H2O over a period of 12 years, to be later absorbed by plants during photosynthesis. Given that livestock census figures remain stable, our livestock sector’s CO2 emissions into the atmosphere do not increase over time and so they do not contribute to global warming to the same extent that fossil fuel consumption is. Therefore, the fact that our emissions are going down means that we are contributing to climate change mitigation, the same way other economic sectors are.

● When claims are made as to how ‘antibiotics overuse is jeopardising their efficacy in both animals and humans’, it should be made crystal clear that:

  • Use of antibiotics as growth-promoters in farm animals has been banned since 2006 (Directive 2001/82/EC and its subsequent amendments). Only occasionally, as is also the case in humans, is it necessary to treat food-producing animals for bacterial diseases. Responsible use of medicinal products ensures animal welfare, also making sure food produced by these animals is safe and healthy.
  • European legislation regulates which medicines can be used to treat animals and how to use them. Thus, only medicines that have been authorised after having successfully cleared a science-based risk assessment can be used.
  • This has also been confirmed by the Spanish Agency for Medicines and Health Products [in Spanish: AEMPS] indicating that sales of veterinary antibiotics in Spain decreased by 13.6% in 2019, i.e. a 58.8% reduction between 2014 and 2019 (National Antibiotic Resistance Plan).
  • In Europe, according to the latest report of the European Food Safety Agency (EFSA) on the monitoring of residues of veterinary medicinal products and other substances in animals and products of animal origin, the level of non-compliance was a mere 0.30% in 2019. Hence, EFSA concluded that the level of compliance is high, and that the European surveillance system is robust and contributes to consumer protection.

The farming sector is working on multiple sectorial initiatives to support the country in its efforts to recover from the effects of the pandemic. These initiatives include strong commitments in the areas of sustainability and the transition towards climate neutral and circular production models, as well as creation of quality jobs, fostering local cohesion and equal opportunities, and promoting balanced and healthy eating habits for all.

We would like to underscore, once again, the extent to which livestock farming for meat production contributes to job creation and generates opportunities, in addition to promoting strong environmental commitments to deliver verifiable results. As sector representatives, we will continue to engage in institutional cooperation and dialogue, and trust our public policy decision-makers to do likewise and contribute, through their actions and words, to fostering an atmosphere of mutual understanding.

Signatory organisations:

Asociación Interprofesional del Cerdo Ibérico (ASICI)
(Interbranch Association for the Iberian Pig)

Asociación Interprofesional Española de Carne Avícola (AVIANZA)
(Spanish Interbranch Association for Poultry)

Organización Interprofesional para el Impulso del Sector Cunícola (INTERCUN)
(Interbranch Organisation for the Promotion of the Rabbit Sector)

Interprofesional Agroalimentaria del Ovino y Caprino (INTEROVIC)
(Interbranch Organisation for the Sheep and Goat Industry)

Organización Interprofesional del Porcino de Capa Blanca (INTERPORC)
(Interbranch Organisation for White-Capped Pigs)

Organización Interprofesional de la Carne de Vacuno (PROVACUNO)
(Interbranch Organisation for Beef and Veal)

With the support of the ‘Somos Ganadería’ (We Are Livestock Farming) Alliance

Another week of debate on the Farm to Fork studies in Brussels ends with…the need for more studies!

Brussels, 27 January 2022 – This week, again, the European agricultural news has partly revolved around the question of the studies on the impact of the Farm to Fork strategy, whether it be the hearing with Julien Denormandie in the European Parliament or the official academic release of the two studies by the University of Wageningen, one of which, dedicated to the impacts on the livestock sector, was commissioned by the members of the European Livestock Voice. 

However, the most significant event of the week was the debate organised in the European Parliament on Tuesday on the subject. If I had to pick one statement to summarise, out of the two-hour debate, I would keep the conclusion of the chairman of the agriculture committee, Norbert Lins, “The studies already on the table bring different points of view, which is useful, but we need an impact study(s) (ndlr. from the European Commission)”. 

So we need more studies. Yes, that is undeniable. I agree with the many MEPs who have spoken in this direction. I would even add one comprehensive public European study. But this is not the direction that is currently being taken. The Commission, through its representative for agriculture, Commissioner Wojciechowski, already announced a few months ago – perhaps offhandedly – that there would not be an overall study on the impact of the targets proposed in the Green Deal, but a series of studies on the different objectives. However, one of the lessons from the Wageningen studies is that these different targets do have cumulative and combined effects. Impact studies on each of the legislative proposals will not give any insight into what will really happen tomorrow in our stables, in imported containers, on our farm financial accounts and the price people see on the shelf! On the other hand, it is difficult to hear from the Commission that conducting such a study won’t be feasible. If you can put policy targets of this magnitude, you should be able to assess their impact! It’s as simple as that.

I also noticed that the time needed for science does not necessarily line up with the time needed for communication or politics. A study would take more time, whereas we know that this year the Commission will already present 24 of the 28 legislative translations of the Farm to Fork communication. Without being a soothsayer, I can still predict that in a few months we will find ourselves in the same situation as last October, when the EU voted on the initial Farm to Fork communication; the Parliament and the Council will have to take a position, without having a global study that we have been calling for for over a year. Will the Parliament and Council react at this point or will they accept the same time pressures from the Commission? 

In Tuesday’s debate, some Green MEPs also used the argument that these studies were funded by “lobbies”. This is a convenient argument for ignoring the studies, but it’s a bit short-sighted. On the one hand, you could read from this remark that the independence of scientists is called into question. But moreover, it simply or perhaps intentionally skips over the central question: why did we decide to ask for this study in the first place? Because there was no publication by the Commission or its research centre on its flagship policy! Political objectives had been set, without an explanation of the basis for them or consideration of the consequences. Should we then just sit back and wait? 

Finally, I found this debate interesting for the blind spots it raises. Some MEPs have rightly pointed out that the question of changes in diet or the fight against food waste should be considered and that this had not been envisaged in studies such as the Wageningen study. This is a fact and work needs to be done, particularly by the Commission, in this respect. But, as a livestock farmer, I would be keen to see this argument applied to all the targets and initiatives that are being piled up in the Green Deal, whether it be the methane, soil, or biodiversity initiatives. Once again, as a farmer, I don’t need to be a mind reader to know that they will also have very significant impacts.  

With my colleagues from the livestock sector, just like the MEPs on Tuesday, we are now waiting for the Commission’s concrete proposals. If we have been very vocal about the global objectives up till now, in the coming months we will be entering the core of this Farm to Fork discussion. We will have to talk (finally) about the solutions, the agronomic and technological options and the concrete measures to take. We are waiting for the beginning of what is, for me, a new Farm to Fork sequence. If we have disagreements and doubts about this target-based approach on one hand, we are nevertheless convinced that there are changes to be made in livestock farming and in agriculture more generally. We must play our part in these changes, and we will actively participate in these discussions and try to bring our answers, those from the field, to this key debate.

The Opinion Piece can be found here in FR.

European Livestock Voice

About us:
European Livestock Voice ( is a multi-stakeholder group of like-minded EU partners united to bring back a balanced debate around a sector that is playing such an essential role in Europe’s rich heritage and future. The associations represent sectors ranging from animal health to feed, to breeding and animal farming and farmers; together they aim to inform the public about the social value of livestock production and its contribution to global challenges, offering another perspective in the ongoing debates.

Contact persons:
Jean-Baptiste Boucher, Copa-Cogeca +32 474 84 08 36
Clare Carlisle, AnimalhealthEurope +32 474 38 87 11

Noise VS Transparency, Promises VS Actions, A Story From Denmark

On the 5th of November 2021 the animal rights NGO “Anima” launched a challenge for the Danish poultry sector. With a desire to show the Danish public how bad conventional farming is,the NGO, through an advertising campaign, promised € 67.000 (DKK 500,000) to the poultry farmer who would be willing to show their barns to the public.

The Danish Agriculture & Food Council took up the challenge with gusto, and Solveig Nộrmark, who runs her poultry farm with her husband Jens Kristian in western Jutland, welcomed people into the chicken coop via video camera. Via their website, it is possible to see what happens in real-time in the stable. Two cameras sitting at different heights and angles give a good overview of the barn, so anyone can follow the lives of approximately 32,000 chickens via livestream 24 hours a day.

Live data is also shared via this system, such as temperature, number of chickens, water and food consumption, or age in days. From the comfort of their homes Danes can now check in to see that the animals’ ventilation, drinking, and feeding systems are demonstrating good health and welfare. And European Livestock Voice took the opportunity to interview Henrik Søndergaard Nielsen from the Danish Agriculture and Food Council about this interesting story.

“What this story is telling us is that in Denmark we want to make sure that people from urban areas understand where the poultry comes from when they buy it at the supermarket”, says Nielsen. “We want to make people in the cities aware of how life is in the countryside, and what happens with the food they put on the table. Anima and the general public don’t know what goes on on the farms. Unfortunately, we are working with many myths and rumours about how farm life works. That’s why we were willing to be very open, offering everybody an opportunity to watch livestock farming in reality. We allow everybody to see first-hand what is happening to broilers on the farm and their progression. You can see that they are doing fine, eating well, sleeping, and moving around. Hopefully after this we can openly address the rumours and myths that we read in articles, often written by people who had never been to a farm.”

So, the lesson is that farmers have nothing to hide! Now the Danish Agriculture & Food Council is looking forward to receiving the award from Anima, as they intend to donate it to the Danish charity organisation Julemaerkefonden, which helps socially disadvantaged children. But is Anima really willing to pay the money advertised? “Well, yesterday they told a Danish magazine that they are reconsidering the payment and will have an internal discussion about that” – Nielsen answered regretfully – “We don’t want that money for us. We wanted to donate it to children.”

This story from Denmark is a double whammy for the livestock sector. It shows that not only are farms operating in respect of animal health and welfare, but also that for some judgemental parties, there is often a considerable gap between preaching about ethics and concrete actions. After the noise made and the promise of the money, it would be ironic to see the animal rights NGO Anima refusing to give it to the children. If it does transpire that they don’t keep their word, says Nielsen, “poultry companies and industries will donate this money for the children anyway.” An essential ethical lesson learnt.

“Milck” is neither milk, nor Milch: German court strengthens consumer protection

Healthy food. Dairy products on the table

Something is moving in the area of consumer protection. In several legal cases designations of plant-based products likening to animal source foods have been forbidden to use the animal product names. This happened recently in Germany, where the start-up “The Hempany“, producer of plant-based drink from hemp seeds, had called their product “Milck“, clearly referencing the real cow’s milk. According to the court, the name “Milck” goes against the EU regulation protecting product names for milk and milk products. Unfortunately, such rules are still missing for the meat sector, where the debate on meat-sounding names is still open.

The German court strengthens consumer protection. The ruling is clear: “Milck” is too close to “milk” or the German word “Milch”, and the product is far away from sharing the nutritional qualities of milk. That was the judgment of the Stuttgart court: the name “Milck” cannot be used to refer to a plant-based drink that is not milk because it is a source of confusion for consumers, who deserve clarity and transparency instead. This is a new victory against misleading labels, similar to the story from  England with Oatly, a producer of plant-based drinks from oats.

Here, too, the UK Advertising Standards Authority ASA banned Oatly’s marketing campaign, arguing that its claims were not scientifically proven and were misleading for consumers. Oatly argued that following a vegan diet would reduce a person’s environmental impact more than giving up flying, buying an electric car, or buying sustainable meat and dairy products. All false statements and not supported by scientific studies, according to the ASA.

Indeed, in examining this issue, the ASA said that Oatly overestimated the meat and milk industry emissions. In the comparison with transport it had not considered emissions from the whole life cycle of transport, but only direct emissions of vehicles, probably the most common error made when comparing emissions.

Similarly, the Center against Unfair Competition in Frankfurt has decided that German start-up “The Hempany” cannot use the fancy name “Milck” for advertising its vegan drink under the slogan “let’s milk hemp seeds instead of cows”. The product is far from having the nutritional qualities of natural milk, and plant-based drinks are not comparable in any way to real cow’s milk, neither for dietary values nor for health benefits.

This marketing between bashing and imitation is questionable, as there can be room for both dairy products and vegetable juices without the two necessarily coming into conflict. A good example of this was the development of vegetable margarine alongside butter. 

The issue of confusion is also far from being annecdotal, a 2018 CNIEL study in France had shown that among consumers already 1 in 2 thought that milk and plant juices provided the same nutrients and 1 in 5 thought that these juices met the needs of babies. These naming issues will increase in the coming years with the proliferation of plant-based and purely synthetic substitutes.

The market of plant-based products proposed as substitutes of animal source foods is expanding, and, in Germany for example, more and more people are switching from the classic cow’s milk, to drinking vegetable products based on soy, almonds or oats. According to the Bundesanstalt für Landwirtschaft und Ernährung (BLE), consumption last year was almost 50 kilograms per capita. But the Stuttgart start-up is not giving up and has appealed. “We are very disappointed with the decision of the Court of Justice”, explains Dave Tjiok, CEO at The Hempany GmbH: “Consumer behaviour has changed radically, and one thing is certain: we will continue to make noise“.

On the other hand, the European Dairy Association,commented: “The ruling is clear: dairy terms are protected at EU level, safeguarding consumers’ nutritional and quality expectations. The German plant-based company was trying to blur the lines between their product and real milk, but there is no comparison in terms of nutritional quality – plant-based products cannot provide the full nutritional benefits that come naturally from milk. To protect consumers, we must have rules that avoid that people are misled about what to buy. Trying to imitate the uniqueness of our milk and dairy products is simply a threat to consumers’ capability of making properly informed choices”.

“Vegan leather” – Portugal says no and here’s why

In a decision released last week, Portuguese authorities banned the term “vegan leather” –  the latest story in a string of problematic plant-based denomination issues. After the prohibition to call plant-based drinks “milk”, leather companies are now also protected from misleading denominations that use the terms “vegan”, “plant”, or even “synthetic” alongside with the word “leather” in their marketing. Their use is illegal, and the authorities will sanction this practice from now on with fines and prosecution.

The new legislation states that terms such as “vegan leather” are technically incorrect and misleading for consumers, and it is imperative to protect the leather industry and consumers. The new “Leather Decree” defines how the term “leather” can be used in commercial enterprises. Supporters of the new Portuguese decree also cited the high plastic content of some primary alternative sheet materials, such as cactus-based “desserto” and pineapple-based “Piñatex“, which may be  questionable from a sustainability point of view too. So why are national authorities across the EU starting to put a spanner in the works of companies trying to market vegan alternatives? Why are vegan companies not simply creating new, fashionable denominations for products? The answers to these questions are often subtly eluded in media debates on the subject.

When vegan-oriented companies reference the original animal product, they clearly know what they are doing. Firstly, any good marketing specialist knows that establishing awareness or a cultural frame of reference around a product is complex, takes time and requires resources. Therefore, using a legal loophole is very tempting, as familiar terms have never needed legal protection until now. Yet the credibility of the leather sector is based on the work of thousands of tanners over the centuries. The reference universe related to leather is rich and directly linked to the materials’ notions, values, and properties (strength, tradition, naturalness, know-how, luxury, etc.). By using this denomination, it is this leather universe that is hijacked at a lower cost. Secondly, by marketing an oxymoron, such as the opposing concepts of “vegan” and “leather”, it also makes it possible to avoid referencing the real nature of the product for sale by enticing the consumer through its alternative – read better – option to the initial product. Practical! But yet pretty unfair.

Portugal joins other countries in Europe, such as Belgium, France, Italy, and Spain, where leather is legally protected. Hungary is also currently working on similar legislation, and other countries are considering following the same path to protect leather authenticity. In The Official Journal of the Republic of Portugal of January 4, 2022, the “Decree-Lei n.o 3/2022” was published, establishing the mandatory standards of the authenticity of the country’s leather. With this legislation, another EU Member State puts an end to misleading practices involving the hi-jacking of the term leather, including false descriptions such as ‘vegan leather’, ‘cactus leather’, ‘synthetic leather’, and artificial leather”.

The decree lays down the strict requirements for using these terms, stating that the term leather cannot be used in conjunction with qualifiers that contradict the intrinsic animal nature of leather. The leather authenticity legislation thus promotes the use of correct and truthful information for consumers, and breaking these rules constitutes an unfair commercial practice that must therefore be punished.

While we welcome this legal development in Portugal, in COTANCE we were expecting that the European Commission would finally decide to proceed to a long-awaited harmonisation of leather authenticity rules at EU level.” says the president of COTANCE Manuel Rios (Inpelsa). In fact, during the completion of the EU internal market in 1992, the European Commission harmonised national rules on textile denominations and footwear labelling. But, it did not do the same for leather. Such a failure at the EU level is finally being compensated by developing rules on leather authenticity at the national level.

The tone of vegan activists and manufacturers shows that we must persevere consistently in pushing forward authenticity. I see that they have a problem with transparency here because these so-called ‘Vegan leathers’ are plastic with some biological input, be it cactus, pineapple leaves, apple or grape peels – underlines COTANCE’s Secretary-General, Gustavo Gonzalez-Quijano – It is crucial to preserve the cultural heritage of this industry, which, aside from having created top quality products out of a residue (waste) of the meat industry, leather defines our lifestyles. Ruining its authenticity would be a terrible mistake for European culture.”

Opinion Piece by European Livestock Voice

23 April 2021

Opinion: What Greenpeace’s latest report won’t tell you about the EU Promotion Policy

Italian friends, stop promoting your salamis and other parmesan. French colleagues, take no pride in being the country with 365 different cheeses. Austrian pals, hide your schnitzel. Spanish fellows, put away those dry cured hams that made your reputation. This was my first reaction reading the new Greenpeace self proclaimed ‘study’ on the promotion of European agricultural products by the European U nion. In essence, this document of 25 pages (pictures included) aims to demonstrate that “The European Union, despite its political ambitions with the Green Deal or the Farm to Fork Strategy, spent from 2016 2020 more than 250 million euros on the exclusive promotion of meat and dairy products, which would represent 32% of the global budget allocated to the promotion of agricultural products going to industrial farming” 1.

The quoted figure is meant to shock, to make a forceful impression in a tweet, but shocking statistics aside, what does this ‘report’ really tell us, or rather what doesn’t it tell us?

What this report does not say, first of all, is that its release is taking place in a specific context in which the European Union is currently discussing the evolution of its promotion policy, and in particular, how to promote even further the sustainability of farming practices to encourage EU farmers in their efforts for a more virtuous production. Farmers, cooperatives, agronomists and the scientific co mmunity have been multiplying their efforts to build an agriculture that is more respectful of the environment and animal welfare. Not to support this work would simply mean turning one’s back on those who invest themselves daily in their farms. Greenpeace won’t tell you that agriculture is one of the few sectors that has managed to reduce its CO2 emissions over the last 20 years, or that Europe has the highest standards of animal welfare in the world. What this report won’t consider is that if we decide to stop promoting European food production,
others won’t hesitate to continue doing so, and it will certainly be at the expense of farm animals and the environment in regions that do not even get close to the standards our farmers in Europe have to comply wi th. If we truly want an EU agriculture that is more sustainable than it already is, ostracising more than one third of its workers in favour of third country productions with a disregard for environmental concerns, will certainly not help.

Let’s talk about their figures and methodology. This ‘250 million euros over four years’, it only took an email from the European Commission to the editors of Politico to call it into question. In his answer, the European Commission official rightly says that it is diffi cult to make such an estimate since promotional policies are often not related to a specific product but to a basket of different products. Even if we look beyond this oversimplification, what the Greenpeace report has left out is that these 250 million eu ros, representing 32% of the budget dedicated to meat and dairy, is in line with the 38.6% value of the EU’s agricultural animal production in 2019. The same goes for fruit and vegetables. Greenpeace is saying that only 19% of the budget is dedicated to fr uit and vegetables, but it is in line with the value share of fruit and vegetables representing 20% of the value of the EU’s agricultural production. Moreover, it also has to be taken into account that in addition to the Promotion Policy, between 2017 and 2023, 150 extra million euros are dedicated to the promotion of fruits and vegetables in EU school’s through the Commission School Scheme programme programme2. Greenpeace also says that only 9% of the budget envelope goes to organic. Once again, this is completely i n line with the 8% share of organic. The conclusion that we can draw from this is that the EU promotion is entirely adapted to the realities of production in Europe. The reason for this is simple. It is up to the economic actors to request funds and set up a promotional campaign. If the funds are redistributed based on Greenpeace’s reasoning, then would all the funds be used? Will we see the budget envelope dedicated to the promotion of our valuable regional culinary heritage be reallocated to the promotion of vegan “nuggets” or “lab meat”?

The Greenpeace report attacks ‘industrial farming’ as the main recipient of the EU promotion policy funds. What Greenpeace will not say is that most of the budget for the internal market is dedicated to either geographi cal indications products, organic products or products sustainably produced3. For example, in 2019 the entire budget of the multi and simple programs for the internal market was dedicated to these three categories of products products4. What Greenpeace also won’t t ell you is that the average size of livestock farms in Europe is only 47 livestock units units5, and that the promotional policy has been designed at EU level to support these small operators to ensure that their products have an equal chance of being promoted a longside multinationals that have the resources to deploy huge marketing campaigns.

If we look at the whole of Greenpeace’s communication, this report is ultimately just part of a much larger agenda, being the ‘veganisation’ of our food. To do so, Greenp eace is promoting a very misleading idea that science is univocal in matters of the environment or health when it comes to livestock. What Greenpeace won’t mention is that many researchers are taking up the cause to challenge those claims claims6 7. As chance wou ld have it, on the same day that the Greenpeace report went out, two new studies were published that show no increased risk of heart disease, cancer, or early death from red meat meat8.

Finally, and perhaps the most important to me, Greenpeace has a vision of what a more vegan diet could look like, but what the report does not say is that the food giant lobby and stakeholders who are lining up behind the Greenpeace communication in Brussels also have a vision: promoting ultra processed, standardized and enginee red vegan products, which are less attractive from a nutritional point of view view9; or synthetic products, which may not be very appealing from an environmental point of view view10. To make those ‘alternatives’ accepted, marketing agencies behind those products kn ow that taste, nutrition or price are their strength, this is why it is so important to them to act on the value side of the equation. In the past, alternative products never used such a strategy to penetrate a market and both original and alternative prod ucts could cohabit like butter and margarine. The promised revolution will certainly not be the one promoted, and when we get there, there will be no turning back. Our farms and their know how will be gone.

What is at stake behind this whole subject of promotion policy is the vision for our future food system. Are we going to abandon part of our culinary heritage, our parmesan, our camembert’s, our sausages, our pork tenderloin, our prime rib in favour of synthetic food of which the culinary universe is populated by veggie ‘burgers’ and ‘nuggets’? When compared to the near €3, 100 million invested in plant based imitations products last year year12, what’s a mere €250 million invested over 4 years by the European Commission to promote and protect the EU’s culinary heritage?

In the end, this ‘study’, which lacks robust methodology and academic credibility, will join the series of reports of the same kind that attempt to give the impression of a factual consensus on the topic. This approach is sadly damagi ng to the European public debate as it feeds a kind of populism against the work put in place by the Commission and EU farmers to constantly improve the sustainability of EU agriculture. If applied, it could certainly result in an increase in imports from blocks like Mercosur, harming our regional culinary heritage while allowing big multinationals to promote their new product lines.

Jerzy Wierzbicki
Chairman of Copa-Cogeca working Party on Promotion Policy
Support of the European Livestock Voice, Carni Sostenibili and Somos Ganaderia

European Livestock Voice

The Opinion Piece can be found here in EN, IT, PL, ES.

[1] [2]   [3] [4] [5] [6] [7] [8] [9] [10]  [11] [12] [13]  

About us:
European Livestock Voice ( is a multi-stakeholder group of like-minded EU partners united to bring back a balanced debate around a sector that is playing such an essential role in Europe’s rich heritage and future. The associations represent sectors ranging from animal health to feed, to breeding and animal farming and farmers; together they aim to inform the public about the social value of livestock production and its contribution to global challenges, offering another perspective in the ongoing debates.

Contact persons:

Jean-Baptiste Boucher, Copa-Cogeca +32 474 84 08 36
Clare Carlisle, AnimalHealthEurope +32 474 38 87 11
Florence Ranson, ELV + 32 477 49 26 90

Opinion Piece by European Livestock Voice

14 April 2021

Opinion: Banning all “cages” for farm animals – a theoretical concept and its actual consequences.

The idea of banning the use of cages in livestock farming is gaining some traction in various circles. It makes for a catchy headline to spread the idea that all enclosures are inherently bad for animals, but animal health and welfare are actually much more complex. This theory seems to omit the fact that the EU is world leader on animal welfare, because farmers have invested billions in it. We can see a path forward, and the livestock production chain is convinced that the debate about livestock housing must be qualified and scientifically validated.

Discussing cages would first require us to qualify the debate. As Camus once said, “naming things wrongly is adding to the world’s misery”. This quote is particularly relevant to the debate on cages in agriculture. In fact, it is interesting to notice that there is not even a clear definition of actual “cages” in the ‘End the Cage Age’ campaign that has been promoting their full removal. While simplification for communication purposes is understandable, it is obviously problematic when discussing the actual implementation of such a claim. Following calls for enriched cages as essential to animal welfare, in particular from NGOs, European farmers invested billions in these systems. Furthermore, there are in fact many different types of equipment and different uses for each. Some equipment is for instance used at particular stages of the animal’s life, like births or in case of veterinary control where barns could also be considered as cages.

In the end, proponents of a vague concept calling an end to all cages make it even more difficult for professionals to comment from a technical point of view or when considering its connection with animal welfare. It might sound obvious but different animal species have different ethological characteristics and housing systems are designed to suit them and their needs.

Barring the use of cages as a whole is not only an oversimplification; it can also have serious consequences on the health and welfare of animals. If the sows are not kept in a farrowing crate, their welfare might be increased, but at the same time this will affect the welfare of the piglets and increase piglet mortality unless extra attention is given.

European farmers have the highest animal welfare standards and have been working on increasing them since 1974. Still, they are prepared to go even one step further. But for that, a change in a housing system – and in the related policy-making – should be based on evidence and informed by on-farm tests and scientific experimentation with the animal at the centre. As animal ethicists have pointed out, it is strange to claim to wish to increase animal health and welfare by banning cages. Improving animal health and welfare is much more complex and should be assessed by looking at e.g. housing parameters, enrichments, animals’ ability to move freely, the risk of injuries and diseases, and more generally at the housing conditions throughout the different life stages of the animals. Science and facts should be the starting point, rather than emotions.

The ongoing debate also creates a perception that farmers are passive. Nothing could be further from the reality on the ground. Livestock farms are innovative places, constantly investing in improving their infrastructures and practices to keep up with new scientific evidence. Let’s take a concrete example: less than 10 years ago many farmers keeping laying hens changed from conventional laying hen cages, which are still a common practice in the rest of the world, to “European” enriched cages. Those cages were developed together with animal welfare experts and do not only provide additional space for each hen, but also help to ensure that layers can express their natural behaviour. And farmers did not stop there. This is only one of the numerous efforts farmers in all sectors are still making. European farmers invested billions of euros, rebuilding their farms and negotiating with national authorities to get the necessary permissions.

However, it should be said clearly: innovation comes at a price; research, development and implementation entail enormous and long-term costs for farmers. They can adapt to changes, but those also need to be economically viable. At the end of the day, there is a clear risk for EU farmers to become obsolete. There is also a definite possibility to just “delocalise” the core issue somewhere else in the globe, while at the same time increasing EU consumers’ dependence on products from less animal welfare friendly third countries.

Finally, it is worth noting that consumers’ approach to animal products changes significantly from theory to practice: in fact, while there is a general tendency to “humanise” animals, recent research (2020 Eurobarometer) shows that purchasing habits in the EU are still driven by factors like taste, food safety and price over sustainability and animal welfare. Changes in farming are only possible and sustainable long-term if they go hand in hand with the consumer’s acceptance to pay a premium and the retailers’ acceptance of fair-trading practices. Two terribly uncertain dimensions.

The word “cage” often has a negative connotation and generates a strong emotional response from the average consumer. Norms and ideals regarding animal treatment have entered the political and societal agenda, making the issue more intricate, raising dilemmas and inconsistencies. It is very easy to instinctively be against cages, but very few citizens have the opportunity to go visit a farm, read scientific studies, and talk to a farmer to hear the various points of view, understand how farms function in reality and what needs individual animals have at the different stages of their lives.

European Livestock Voice

About us:
European Livestock Voice ( is a multi-stakeholder group of like-minded EU partners united to bring back a balanced debate around a sector that is playing such an essential role in Europe’s rich heritage and future. The associations represent sectors ranging from animal health to feed, to breeding and animal farming and farmers; together they aim to inform the public about the social value of livestock production and its contribution to global challenges, offering another perspective in the ongoing debates.

Contact persons:
Clare Carlisle, AnimalHealthEurope +32 474 38 87 11
Jean-Baptiste Boucher, Copa-Cogeca +32 474 84 08 36
Florence Ranson, ELV + 32 477 49 26 90

Opinion Piece by Joe Healy

A European tax on meat: a proposal that could be as simplistic as counterproductive!

Brussels, 19 May 2020 – Last February in Brussels, the Dutch TAPP coalition (True Animal Protein Price) launched a new report from within the European Parliament proposing to introduce a tax on meat products. On paper the idea may seem simple at a first glance. Indeed, according to the proponents, with one single tax we would be able to resolve three ‘problems’: limit meat consumption in Europe, reduce European livestock and redirect specific sectors towards practices that have a lesser impact. In two words: a silver bullet!

This “silver bullet” has now reached the head of the European Commission. Tomorrow, the European Commission is planning to unveil an important part of its flagship vision on the European Green Deal – the Farm to Fork Strategy. Amongst the many things that this strategy will address are consumption patterns and consumer dietary choices, targeting more specifically the consumption of meat. As far as we are aware of, the approach considered by the Commission suggests that we stop the promotion of meat products, stop stimulating their production and impose a more targeted use of tax rules on meat.

Had livestock farmers had their say, had we taken a step back to think about this question in the context of trade agreements or European treaties, ultimately, had we taken the time to analyse this, this proposal would have seemed a lot more problematic and quite simply counterproductive. It has to be said time and time again, there is no such thing as a quick fix in farming!

This opinion piece is authored by Joe Healy,
Vice President of Copa and dairy and livestock farmer from Athenry, Co. Galway (IE).

Opinion Piece by European Livestock Voice

5 March 2021

Opinion: The European Livestock Sector’s views on the recent push for synthetic meat

Debates around livestock and meat consumption are on the rise in Europe as well as in other western countries. As European professionals of the livestock sector, we acknowledge this fact and are doing our best to take action on societal demands and environmental concerns. More progress can – and will – be achieved.

As the UN Food Systems Summit approaches, we notice a push for synthetic, lab-grown meat from different opinion leaders outside of the farming community. Perceived by them as a true solution to our environmental challenges, synthetic meat production is strongly promoted by tech tycoons among others, who have made powerful statements in favour of synthetic meat and are actively investing in the sector. This high-tech vision, for meat production which has been gaining traction in recent years is, paradoxically, quite poorly explained in the public arena.

For us, European livestock professionals, this point of view and the model it supports, must be debated in public fora so that all social, environmental, economic, and public health impacts are publicly known. To say that a diet free of “real meat” and a Europe without livestock are answers to the challenges posed by climate change is inaccurate and could prove catastrophic for our nutrition, our territories, our environment, diversity and our culture.

Opinion leaders who promote synthetic meat unanimously purport that the science is set when it comes to the future of livestock. They seem to think that the debate within the scientific community would unequivocally support an end to livestock breeding. This vision may be promoted by some media too, but the broader corpus of academic research clearly contradicts these allegations . The same opinion leaders often overlook the fact that livestock farmers, especially in Europe, are long-term adopters of innovation and are taking action, using technology and other solutions, to improve the sustainability of their operations and the welfare of their animals. The European livestock sector has achieved a reduction of CO2 emissions from production every year through a wide range of measures and initiatives, despite low incomes accorded to farmers. In fact European agriculture has successfully increased its overall production by 25% since 1990 while at the same time reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 20% over the same period .

We must consider, in terms of health, the complex nutrients naturally found in meat (vitamins, oligo-elements…) which would be hard to replicate. Let’s also consider the food security concerns that a shift to synthetic meat could generate in countries relying on our livestock and meat exports, not to mention the growing imbalance it could create between the different players of the supply chain or the impact it could have on meat protein affordability for consumers.

Furthermore, assessing all the social, environmental and economic aspects related to an abandonment of the European livestock sector is an extremely complex process, even for agricultural and animal scientists. In all scenarios, however, there are at least three definite consequences to a shift towards 100% synthetic meat:

Europe will lose a circular bio-economy champion. Livestock plays many valuable roles that would otherwise disappear. By valorising food-chain by-products, livestock contributes to a more efficient agriculture. The recycling or some say ‘upcycling’ of biomass from resources such as grass, straw and bran that are inedible for people is an important process. If not consumed by livestock, these residues and by-products could quickly become an environmental burden in themselves, as human demand for processed foods increases. The livestock sector not only produces food but also a wide range of by-products, starting with manures and other effluents. Today, 40% of the world’s cultivated areas use organic fertilisers from livestock production . A Europe without livestock will therefore lead to a significant increase in the use of synthetic fertiliser. Many other lesser-known by-products will be hard to replace without high environmental, economic and social cost – think of leather (replaced by fossil fuels-based products), pharmaceutical ingredients (replaced by synthetic ones), etc. Is this the model of society envisioned by the Green Deal?

Rural Europe will be depleted and food production will be concentrated in the hands of a few food tech companies. Today livestock is a key component of rural Europe. Livestock is present in almost all regions across Europe in a wide diversity of production systems according to local economic, geographical and sociological contexts. The livestock sector contributes substantially to the European economy (€168 billion annually, 45% of the total agricultural activity), to the trade balance and creates employment for almost 30 million people. Without livestock, the rural exodus will accelerate, putting additional population pressure on our cities, and fuelling a greater disconnection with nature and our cultural heritage. The synthetic meat revolution that is envisioned will not be an open-source system. Synthetic food will be highly engineered, ultra-processed and developed through patents. It is therefore certain that a “100% synthetic meat” society would be a society in which production would be concentrated, relocatable and disconnected from nature and rurality. If philanthropy guides the idea of a livestock-free society, then it must also share patents and technologies with everyone, especially developing countries.

The carbon footprint of our meals will not see the substantial decrease promised by synthetic replacements. From a climate change perspective, a world without livestock would likely not be the world we are aiming for. Without ruminants, the maintenance of our pastoral meadow and hedgerow landscapes would become extremely difficult in Europe. Livestock regulate the ecological cycles, close the nutrient cycle, and improve soil fertility and carbon sequestration by recycling and using manure as a bio resource and using grasslands not suitable for crops. In mixed crop and livestock areas, grasslands rotations also have the function of cutting off the cycle of crop pests, allowing farmers to reduce the use of pesticides. In addition, there has been little evaluation of the carbon footprint of synthetic meat alternatives, which may not be as good as first expected. From where would the serum to produce cultured tissues come? How much energy would be needed to make those tissues grow? What antibiotics, fungicides, or hormones would be needed to control the production?

If we truly want to make a difference in terms of the climate impact of meat protein production, then we need to invest in innovation for livestock farming. Our sector itself is keen to further innovate and committed to continuous efforts to further reduce its impact. The ability to reduce emissions and impacts within our sector dwarfs any impact an alternative meat can achieve.

To conclude, allow us to quote Jean-Louis Peyraud, French agronomist from INRAE, who said in 2017 “A world without livestock farming is just a short, medium and long-term utopia. It is time for us to come back to more realistic positions based on facts. Removing livestock farming would be absolute nonsense for humanity. But it does not mean that we do not need to improve our way of rearing animals, to respect them, to offer them a decent life and make sure that their slaughter is done without pain or stress. We have to continue to research and innovate in order to reduce the negative impacts of livestock farming and increase the services it provides to our societies.

European Livestock Voice

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About us:
European Livestock Voice ( is a multi-stakeholder group of like-minded EU partners united to bring back a balanced debate around a sector that is playing such an essential role in Europe’s rich heritage and future. The associations represent sectors ranging from animal health to feed, to breeding and animal farming and farmers; together they aim to inform the public about the social value of livestock production and its contribution to global challenges, offering another perspective in the ongoing debates.

Contact persons:
Jean-Baptiste Boucher, Copa-Cogeca +32 474 84 08 36

Opinion Piece by Johannes Charlier

An animal health scientist’s point of view on the alleged connection between food production and COVID-19

Brussels, 14 May 2020 – The crisis is a fact, the way out uncertain. We see the deadly virus as the very real and almost only truth and act accordingly. Almost every social, commercial and political act today starts from the COVID-perspective. The European Commission reprioritises its major research funding instrument Horizon 2020, the publication of the Commission’s Green Deal Farm to Fork Strategy is delayed and “should reflect the lessons of the COVID-19 pandemic in relation to food security”.

In the meantime, pressure groups use the global crisis to push their own ideological agenda. Animal right movements, but also some scientists and politicians claim (industrial) livestock farming to have a direct link with an increased probability of disease outbreaks impacting on public health.

So the explicit question follows: “Is there a link between the way we rear livestock in Europe and infectious disease outbreaks in humans?”. The short answer is “no”.

This opinion piece is authored by Johannes Charlier,
Project manager of DISCONTOOLS, a database with research gaps for infectious disease control in animals and founding manager of the animal health research & consulting agency Kreavet.

RECOGNISING Food Heroes in the face of a pandemic

Brussels, 20 April 2020 – Long queues at supermarkets and food shops. Half-empty shelves. Only a few products in refrigerators. When re-stocked, the items in much demand at our supermarkets are regularly seen to be the now infamous toilet paper, followed by essential foods such as meat, milk, eggs, bread, canned goods and pasta.

Open Letter – European Commission’s Farm to Fork Strategy needs to take the specificities and assets of the EU livestock value chain that we represent into account

Dear Commissioners, Dear decision and policy makers,

11 March 2020 – Representing a group of 11 Brussels-based organisations, the European organisations of the livestock chain welcome the European Commission’s ambition to transform our current agri-food system through the Green Deal and more specifically the Farm to Fork strategy. As responsible actors linked to livestock farming, the whole system is willing to drive changes towards greater sustainability. The livestock sector is hotly debated when it comes to sustainable food systems, therefore our voice needs to be heard. We have both a duty and the means to contribute to the European Commission’s objectives.

>>> Read the full Open Letter

Freshly released NutriRECS consortium dietary advice updates on red and processed meats: a turning point in a longstanding controversy?

Brussels, 16 October 2019 – Although we are surrounded by an overwhelming abundance and variety of foods, the simple daily act of eating remains a problematic struggle. In a highly normative society, we are continuously being reminded of our poor eating habits. The animal/plant divide in dietary preconceptions seems to be an important part of the mindset, suggesting a cultural rather than a factual perspective on eating right. Whilst the Western diet is clearly causing havoc and undermining public health, even the dietary guidelines usually put a disproportionate emphasis on the need to reduce the consumption of red meat and the products derived thereof. This is remarkable, to say the least, as red meat is a valuable nutrient-dense food and a key component of our evolutionary diets. It has been consumed since the origin of our genus, sometimes in formidable amounts. By 1.5 million years ago, we became largely adapted to meat eating, both anatomically and physiologically, and could not have survived without it.

The received wisdom nonetheless states that we eat ‘too much red meat’ per capita and that we are indulging in it as never before. This may be true when compared to the rural and often underfed generations that spanned the time between the Neolithic and modernity, but many healthy hunter gatherer communities worldwide have done so in even larger quantities. One can only guess how much red meat was eaten during the Palaeolithic era, but it certainly was higher than the mere 0-14 grams per day that is now being recommended by the very restrictive Planetary Health Diet. The latter has been designed by the EAT-Lancet Commission and is symptomatic for the current existential crisis within the scientific discipline of nutritional epidemiology of chronic diseases. Stanford University’s professor John Ioannidis, for instance, has dismissed the health claims of the diet as ‘science fiction’. Nevertheless, fourteen cities belonging to the so-called C40 Cities network, including London, Paris, Barcelona, and Milano, have declared that they will commit to adopting the EAT-Lancet Diet by 2030 to make their diets healthy and sustainable. Even if it is mostly presented as a dietary solution to limit environmental harm, EAT’s science director has admitted that its design has been based on health considerations only. Which brings us to the primordial issue: how strong is the evidence for such a drastic change in dietary behaviour based on nutritional argumentation?

Although the levels of red meat intake have been steadily decreasing over the last decades in many Western countries, possibly as a result of dietary advice, no improvement can be seen with respect to the incidence of diseases of modernity. Well on the contrary, as diabetes and obesity are on the rise. The dietary recommendations have thus failed in their mission, whether or not they are correct in their assumptions. We can either blame this failure on the behavioural weaknesses of the general public or start asking some fundamental questions about the very nature of this approach. As a matter of fact, the dietary guidelines have faced serious criticism since their inception during the late 1970s. Although they were able to ignore the pushback for decades, they did not overcome the inner tension this has created. Today, a decade-old problem is reaching its boiling point.

Authorities that advocate a reduction of the intake of red and processed meats generally claim that this is an evidence-based measure that is unambiguously supported by scientific literature. A closer look at the data, however, demonstrates that most of this literature consists of observational studies, which show weak associations between consumption levels on the one hand and incidence of mortality and certain chronic diseases on the other hand. The consumption data feeding these studies are, however, far from being robust. They are generally selfreported and derived from food frequency questionnaires that have difficulties capturing actual eating behaviour. Moreover, the reported associations are not only weak but also heavily confounded. A main problem is the ‘healthy user bias’, which is due to the fact that health-conscious people are usually eating less meat because they tend to follow the dietary advice encouraging them to do so. Or, in some cases, report as if they would be following that advice. However, such people also tend to be less overweight, more physically active, smoke less, consume less alcohol, have better medical guidance, and just lead healthier lives in general.

Enter the old adagio: association is not necessarily equal to causation; it should not be treated as such until sufficient proof has been accumulated. One would assume that this would by now have been installed as a widespread principle of good scientific practice. What observational studies are capturing is to be considered as health ‘beliefs’ within a society, rather than specific health ‘effects’ of actual foods. In a non-Westernized context, for instance, positive associations sometimes turn into negative ones. This is also confirmed when looking worldwide: the global PURE studies found that the consumption of meat parallels lower mortality and less heart disease. And when arguing nonetheless for a causal detrimental relationship, researchers should not ignore the fact that the administration of red meat in randomized controlled trials does not lead to worsened risk marker profile for inflammation, oxidative stress, or cardiovascular performed a rigorous quality check of the evidence, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine. They clearly state that, when using the highest scientific standards, the certainty of evidence arguing for meat reduction is low to very low. They therefore recommend that adults continue current consumption, at least as far as health effects are concerned. Such authoritative intervention within the peer-reviewed scientific literature was urgently needed. Time will tell if it is able to move the needle, so that we can finally start focussing on what is truly needed: adequate essential nutrition within planetary boundaries.disease.

Taken together, the conflicting ‘body of evidence’ has generated a lot of confusion. To set the record straight, the NutriRECS consortium has recently

This opinion piece is authored by Prof. Dr. ir. Frederic LEROY,
Vrije Universiteit Brussel

>>> Read the full opinion piece

Opinion Piece by Ramón Armengol

Farmers are fed up with false facts

Brussels, 10 October 2019 – Recently, we kicked off the European Meatthefacts campaign, which aims to dispel false information or myths about animal husbandry and meat. The aim is to refute, with scientific arguments and objective data, the countless accusations experienced by the livestock sector and to be able to show society the potential consequences for society if livestock production would end.

This opinion piece is authored by Ramón Armengol,
Vice President of Cogeca and Pig farmer (ES)


Opinon piece by European Livestock Voice

‘Climate Change’ and ‘Animal Welfare’ cannot be reduced to simple slogans

25 September 2019 – There has never been a shortage of polarisation in the debate over farm animals, but when the livestock production debate was connected to climate change the polarisation turned into stigmatisation.
All of a sudden a strong discourse arose directing people to feel guilty, not only for producing meat, but even for eating it, and of course demands like ‘sin taxes’ on animal products were quick to follow.

This self-penned opinion piece published on gives some insight into why this wide range of sectoral associations have joined together as one European Livestock Voice to speak out against disinformation on livestock at EU level.