Published Wednesday, 01 March 2017

Towards sustainability: Future policies for European livestock 

Future policies for the livestock sector should reflect wider social objectives and develop more coherent approaches to environmental objectives such as climate change and water pollution. These are the findings of an IEEP report commissioned by an alliance of NGOs supporting a move to more sustainable diets.

Through a range of policy measures, livestock production benefits from considerable financial support under the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). Future models of support must:

- Factor in likely and desirable changes to diets (including potentially lower meat consumption in Europe);
- Incentivise the contribution agriculture and livestock sectors in particular will need to make to reducing greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs); and
- Distinguish better between livestock farming types which bring environmental and animal welfare benefits and those which do not.

This applies at a European level, but perhaps more imminently in the UK where a new agricultural policy will be needed following Brexit.

The report was commissioned by the Eating Better alliance with funding from Friends of the Earth, the European Public Health Alliance, RSPB, WWF-UK and Compassion in World Farming. It describes a pattern of CAP support payments that is maintaining – and will do for some time – current livestock production levels, despite moves to ‘decouple’ payments linked to output. This is because the distribution of direct payments to farmers continue to reflect past higher yields and scale of production.

Funding for environmental schemes is available, but small budgets and trade rules mean the rewards do not always reflect the benefits such schemes can bring. Member States also use CAP funds to maintain high levels of dairy production even though there is oversupply in the EU as a whole, pushing down prices. High tariffs and other support for cattle and sheep production keep livestock in Europe, but do not provide an incentive to reduce GHGs and other environmental pressures such as water pollution on the scale required in the coming years.