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Promoting a sustainable livestock sector in Europe

Focus areas

Sustainability issues
Sustainability is a broad concept that refers to ways of production that are socially acceptable, economically viable and environmentally positive. Current issues for a sustainable Europe include combating and adapting to climate change, resource-use efficiency, a healthy economy, food security and societal welfare. Livestock production contributes to all these important areas.
We focus on finding ways to minimise or even eliminate the effects of animal production on our environment. Optimise animal production and adapting it to often harsher conditions is an urgent task, and one that must be pursued on a global and collaborative basis.
Many factors will change over the coming two decades, and combating and adapting to global climate change will undoubtedly focus our attention more and more. To create new alternative production systems that are more sustainable, a holistic approach that includes every aspect within the livestock supply chain is essential. It includes enhancing crop, pasture and compound feed production; improving digestive efficiency; create well adapted and healthy animals; and optimizing the food distribution circuit.

Biobased economy
The livestock sector is vital part of a biobased economy or bioeconomy that integrates climate objectives, security of food supply, and economic perspectives. To realise a biobased economy in Europe, further developments in the livestock sector are needed. There are many opportunities for innovation to a more resource efficient society that relies more strongly on renewable biological resources to satisfy consumers' needs, industry demand and tackle climate change. Think about how agricultural waste products can serve as feed, or how manure can be turned in the biogas. To ensure innovation we stimulate new technology development and integrated approaches between the different parts in the agricultural sector.

Food quality, food safety, food security
Producing high quality, safe and sufficient food, now and in the future is an absolute priority. To be able to do that we need new systems that are more efficient. Creating new systems provides further opportunities. For example, it can permit a ‘nutritional profile agenda’ to be incorporated, increasing the concentrations of beneficial compounds in the final product for better human health.

Animal health and animal welfare
The animal is a central component of the production systems.. On tomorrow’s farm, animals must be healthy, balanced and robust. A balance that matches production demands with ethical farming procedures has to be found. A robust animal will cope with all challenges posed by the farming environment.
Setting the correct selection goals and providing an adequate breeding system with access to a balanced diet can achieve this. Careful attention to pre-emptive measures will optimise health and this will limit our appeal for pharmacological or veterinary interventions. The deployment of new, non-invasive tools and surveillance methods will relieve pressure on the farmer and provide aids for decision-making. This will improve the working environment and optimize the performance of the farming system.
The possibilities offered by genomic selection open the way for the generalized breeding programs. They will be able to create trade-offs between potentially antagonistic traits such as fertility, health, and production performances. This has already been successfully applied in the major poultry breeding programs and is being applied too in the major livestock species.
Furthermore a wider adoption of the epidemiological approach to disease control and management is needed. Animal diseases know no frontiers and more opportunistic pathogens will spread.

Finding new technologies that are acceptable to society
Our work involves discussing and tackling controversial issues. These include the ethics of using animals and new technologies that give rise to ethical considerations such as cloning and other new biotechnologies. It is essential that new technologies that produce new knowledge are studied experimentally and independently, since the primary intention is to stock the knowledge base.

Building competence
Implementing new systems will require new skills. Typical aspects of these new systems, like maintaining water supplies, drainage, ventilation, and surveillance systems, call for changes in the way we teach animal farming. Since we will need new farmers for these new systems, the new teaching must be available in initial training, but also in the lifelong learning systems that target adult education.
To get maximum impact from our education in this sector, we need European certification for the entire range of skills needed to operate the new systems, like extensive farming or groundless systems. This will allow greater mobility and better knowledge exchange across EU Member States, and will also encourage a more uniform and higher level of skills. This will finally feed through to better and more uniform product quality. Knowledge exchange between European Member States.