For Europeans and a majority of people around the world, a world without livestock is not something that is widely called for. Nevertheless, a minority fraction of the European population, are considering a world that is “free from livestock production”. This clear and radical stance may seem seductive to some who consider it a coherent vision for the future. However, the singular removal of an entire food group from our future would bring with it a number of consequences that are often ignored.
There are however, five clear consequences that could be considered as certain:
Europe will lose a circular bio-economy champion
In a global circular bio-economy, livestock has many valuable roles that would disappear in a world without livestock. By valorising food-chain by-products livestock contributes to a more efficient agriculture and to a rich cultural and creative society. Livestock also 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.
Rural Europe will be depleted
Today livestock is a key component of rural Europe. Livestock are 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 increase, creating additional pressure in our cities, and a greater disconnection with nature and with our cultural heritage. Abandoned land would also result in increased forest fire risks in a context of global warming.
The use and price of synthetic fertilisers will increase
The livestock sector is not only producing food but also a wide range of by-products, starting with manures and other effluents. Today, 40% of the world’s cultivated area are using organic fertilisers coming from livestock production.
European food culture heritage will partly vanish
A complete shift away from livestock production would present major challenges to meeting all populations’ nutritional needs. With no meat, cheese, eggs and fish in diets, the EU population would not receive enough of several different essential dietary nutrients from the foods they eat. A plant-only diet also would require individuals to eat more food and more daily calories to meet their nutritional needs because the available foods from plants are not as nutrient dense as foods from animals.
Eliminating livestock would increase deficiencies in calcium, vitamins A and B12 and some important fatty acids (from fish). The latter are important as they help to reduce cardiovascular disease and improve cognitive function and vision in infants. Animal food products are the only available, non-supplemental sources of some fatty acids and vitamin B12.
The carbon footprint of our meals will not see a substantial decrease
From a climate change perspective, a world without livestock would likely not be as some may expect. Without ruminants, the maintenance of our pastoral meadow and hedgerow landscapes would become extremely difficulty.