Europe’s animal sector exceeds safety-bounds for greenhouse gas emissions

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A new report indicates that Europe’s animal farming sector has exceeded safety-bounds for greenhouse gas emissions.

The report, authored by the Rural Investment Support for Europe (RISE) Foundation, says the sector has also impacted on nutrient flows and biodiversity loss.

It calls for an urgent reduction in meat and dairy production by 2050 – in line with Greenpeace demands.

Professor Allan Buckwell, a co-author of the report, says pressure on livestock farmers is set to intensify this century as global population and income growth raises demand for meat-based products beyond the planet’s capacity to supply it.

The study calls for the European commission to urgently set up a formal inquiry mandated to propose measures – including taxes and subsidies – that “discourage livestock products harmful to health, climate or the environment”.

Meat consumption

According to the report, Europeans already eat more than twice as much meat as national dietary authorities recommend – far beyond a “safe operating space” within environmental limits.

“Huge sectoral adjustments”will be needed by 2050 to rebalance the sector, including a 74% drop in greenhouse gas emissions and a 60% cut in nitrate-based fertiliser use, it finds,” says co-author Allan Buckwell.

“We’re talking about fewer meat meals, less meat portions and moving to flexitarian diets without being dogmatic about it, there is a role for softer public health messaging but harder messages are necessary too.”

Growing support

There appears to be growing acceptance to this idea.

“Unless policymakers face up to this now, livestock farmers will pay the price of their inactivity. ‘Protecting the status quo’ is providing a disservice to the sector,” said Janez Potocnik, the EU’s former environment commissioner while launching the report.

“We cannot shy away from the mounting research that is detailing the impacts of livestock production and consumption on our health, environment and climate.

“Whilst the massive advances in innovation in the livestock sector will certainly form part of the solution, it will not be enough. The shift needed for the sector to contribute to Europe meeting its commitments under the Sustainable Development Goals and the COP21 Paris agreement is just too great. And change is inevitable.”

The EU’s agriculture commissioner, Phil Hogan – who dismissed the sector’s emissions footprint earlier this year – said that he too wanted it to become “smarter, greener and cleaner, and do so fast”.