At an international colloquium on food security and nutrition at the University of Stuttgart-Hohenheim, the topic of livestock was also discussed in a special workshop. ©University of Hohenheim

At an international colloquium on food security and nutrition at the University of Stuttgart-Hohenheim, the topic of livestock was also discussed in a special workshop.
Photo: © University of Hohenheim

Livestock between big business and animal welfare

In July 2016, the the High Level Panel of Experts on Food Security and Nutrition (HLPE) submitted its 10th Report, which focuses on the role livestock plays for sustainable agricultural development for security and nutrition. This report and the pathways and recommendations it contains were at the centre of a discussion event at the University of Hohenheim, Germany, in late September.

“Livestock is a key sector world-wide and in many countries,” Wilfried Legg, the  project team leader of the 10th Report of the High Level Panel of Experts on food Security and Nutrition (HLPE)  stressed in a workshop during the workshop at University of Stuttgart-Hohenheim in Germany and backed up his statement with statistics. Legg explained that around a third of world-wide gross agricultural value came from the livestock sector, while 26 per cent of the global land area was pastures. Over the past decades, the consumption of animal products had risen, as had production itself. For example, global milk production had more than doubled over the past 50 years, while meat production had quadrupled and egg production had grown almost fivefold. However, Legg also noted that environmental pollution had risen simultaneously. Livestock is responsible for 14.5 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions.

Livestock is a big business

The increase in world-wide consumption of animal food forecast by the HLPE Report for the years up to 2050 is taking place in the developing countries, as is the rise in production levels. However, the report does not provide any general recommendations for the different agricultural production systems, not even for those that can produce more on a sustainable basis. Legg said that it was important to integrate local knowledge in decision-making via the respective pathways.

Shirley Tarawali of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) in Kenya also stressed the significance of the livestock sector, but noted that the official development assistance (ODA) investments were vanishingly low in this sector, despite its bearing a potential. “Livestock is a big business, and the demand is increasing,” Tarawali said, noting that this was not because people in the developing countries were all of a sudden eating huge amounts of meat or dairy products but because with a small increase in income, they could afford an egg or a glass of milk every now and then. She maintained that this development offered plenty of business opportunities. The demand could be met by imports, industrial production or also by smallholders or pastoralists. She urged that the diversity of systems and the diversity of beneficiaries be taken advantage of. “Let’s integrate livestock as part of the solution, not of the problem,” Tarawali concluded.

Human rights aspect should guide the pathway

Big business was a catchword that also played a role for Shefali Sharma from the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy of the CFS-Civil Society Mechanism. Sharma related it to the world-wide concentration process in agriculture and said: “What we have seen particularly in the last ten years is the rapid consolidation of this big business with very few companies taking control of the global market.” She criticised that the HLPE did not sufficiently address this development. Neither did it focus on the link between this trend and the massive transformation that the food system had seen in the last 30 years.

The combined developments had led to a massive decline in the number of farmers in the industrialised world and to cheap meat being dumped into Africa and other parts of the world, displacing domestic small producers in those countries. Now it was important to find a way to support smallholders and pastoralists so that they could also survive in the future, for it was they who were still maintaining the bulk of production. “We feel that this entire discussion should be placed in the framework of human rights,” Sharma urged, “because the Committee on Food Security and its global strategic framework is about the right to food and nutrition.”

Animal welfare is a costly thing

Harald Grethe of Humboldt University of Berlin, Germany, introduced another aspect in the debate, noting that world-wide, agricultural practice was still “far away from perfect husbandry”, above all with regard to animal welfare. In order to approach this goal, Grethe proposed a “fund for farmers for animal welfare”, although this was a “costly thing”.

Grethe came up with another suggestion, especially for the rich countries. The latter ought to combine animal welfare and sustainable diet systems, which would mean killing two birds with one stone, for the environment would also benefit from this if e.g. less greenhouse gas emissions from animal husbandry entered the atmosphere. “You can’t tackle the environmental aspects if you don’t focus on meat consumption,” he concluded.

Beate Wörner