Whether or not livestock currently have a role is the question. "We researchers would be very pretentious if we were to claim that it does. Some people say it doesn't on the grounds that, if we want to tackle climate change, we should all go vegan. Meanwhile, others say it does because there are more and more of us and we demand and need more food".

Raimon Ripoll Bosch, a researcher at Wageningen University in the Netherlands, believes that it is important "to listen to where the debate is and why there is one, and not to engage in it with predetermined positions. We are going to see if livestock farming plays a role and what it is.

Raimon participated in the course on "Innovative Perspectives in Agricultural Production:  The role of livestock in a context of global change. Challenges and perspectives organized by the Basque Institute for Agricultural Research and Development, NEIKER, defending the value or values of livestock, apart from its role as food.

Faced with international treaties on climate change, Ripoll said that "if you only look at it through the lens of climate change, we might make livestock partially or totally disappear, forgetting about its many other functions.  He gave as an example, the revitalization of rural areas or the contribution to biodiversity.  Furthermore, it is not the same to talk in a European context or in the context of developing countries.

“Certain biodiversity is directly linked to livestock, to grazing systems. It is a very important part of the landscape and its cultural value.  For this reason," he added, "we must make it clear to all those working to curb climate change that there are other functions of livestock farming." In developing countries, animals fulfill other functions as a support for agricultural production.  The animal is used as traction for work, as fertilizer for the land and even as bank insurance. These are functions that are not contemplated in climate change debates. "It is an excessively reductionist view."  "If you have only one problem in mind, what's the problem?" "The solution may be easy, even if it has effects on farm viability. But it's no good ignoring its consequences on biodiversity and even other dimensions that we don't see." This is what is happening in the design of policies that are being implemented and developed from different institutions.  At the European level, for example, if DG Clima does not have a relationship with DG Agri. or DG Environment, there is an automatic clash because they start from totally different visions".

Raimon Ripoll recalled how until a couple of weeks ago there was no joint work between the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) and IPBES (Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services).  These are totally related areas, but until now they have not been working together. "That's why the role given to livestock is terribly complex. Current research is very disciplinary. Different disciplines are trying to address climate change such as, for example, animal nutrition or animal genetic improvements.  However, solutions in one area can become problematic from a system view or in the face of the scalability of the solution."

Intensive farms are themselves an efficiency success.  "We have a food purchasing capacity that without this system we would not have." Raimon Ripoll alluded to the famous BBC naturalist David Attenborough, who has defended intensive farming, "because it requires fewer resources for each unit you produce and you produce fewer emissions". All developing countries are opting for intensive models in order to be more efficient.

 In Raimon Ripoll's opinion, "there is no doubt that there is a sustainable livestock policy and "it starts with an open disposition on the subject, taking into account all the points of view of those who have something to say.   The most sustainable thing would be to optimize resources at the local level without underestimating technologies that can help us.  In addition to contemplating the different roles and functions of livestock farming".

There is a debate between whether it is better to produce livestock in conventional or organic production systems. Why not go for a hybrid system in which we obtain the benefits of both production systems? A sustainable future also involves a reduction of livestock farming and certain production systems. The solutions may be different according to geographical areas. Raimon Ripoll's research group is working on a circular production system in which livestock act as recyclers of waste or materials that cannot be reused by humans. He gave as an example pasture areas, a product that humans cannot eat, but which are optimal for ruminants. Organic waste from cities could be suitable for pig feed and we can even think of using these remains as feed for insect breeding, which are entering the human diet for their proteins. Do we want insects to feed ourselves or to use them in the livestock feeding process? In that case, the feedstock for livestock and the volume of livestock would be limited to the volume of human waste. 

 "The number of animals that can be kept in a circular system, decreases according to the use of waste and we must not forget that we are talking about maintaining a system that provides us with, meat, eggs or milk, that is, basic products in human nutrition." It is a system that is based on what waste we have and which animals can use it as food more efficiently. Changing these parameters means changing the animal food system, including its genetics, and involves a mental change in human beings, such as choosing to eat insects as a snack.  It also implies a rethinking in food sanitation and in the infrastructure for the reuse of the organic waste we produce.

In his work as a researcher he does not want to define the possible feelings of the livestock sector in the face of the European Green Deal, although he understands that the sector could feel displaced, because he does believe that it is a very polarized scenario. That is why, he repeated, that there is a need for dialogue. "I would not be surprised if the sector has felt ignored because it has been directly accused as a negative factor in the environmental impact. It is true that there is an impact, and it is true that there is a lot of work to be done, but livestock and agriculture cannot be the only ones criminalized while there are others responsible. "There is a lack of this dialogue, which is more difficult when there has been a distancing between society and the process of food generation, from beginning to end. A reconciliation is needed ”


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