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Where’s the beef: fake meat or real livestock production?

By Pascale Mollier
Updated on 06/12/2017
Published on 02/24/2017

This report provides food for thought about a topic that is of growing concern in developed societies: livestock production and meat consumption. Drawing on various findings from research, it offers no simple answers, but rather a few trains of thought that provide a basis for building an informed opinion.

Answering these legitimate and increasingly pressing questions about livestock production and meat consumption with the same old clichés is not an option. The issues at hand are complex because man’s relationship to animals is complex, calling into question his rightful place among other species. To slaughter an animal for food after rearing it, even if the animal would never have existed otherwise, is no small matter. Opposing the act can lead to a refusal to eat meat or animal products, but should a perfectly acceptable personal choice be forced on others? Does it justify putting meat and livestock production on trial, with a view to eradicating the alleged culprits? Among others, here are some charges brought against them: meat is bad for health; meat wastes resources and starves the planet; livestock production is ruining the earth.

This report offers food for thought backed by recent findings, and particularly a scientific study carried out by INRA in 2015-2016 on livestock production in Europe. By providing a synthesis of international scientific literature, the study showed that the advantages of livestock production have been underestimated compared with its drawbacks. It also shows that a global assessment of the impacts of livestock production, be they positive or negative, is not feasible. Lastly, the study points out that suppressing livestock production entirely would mean a loss of environmental and cultural services at both local and global level.

Other solutions exist that are more realistic and promising than eliminating livestock production or creating artificial meat in laboratories. They include: cutting back on the consumption of meat in developed countries; limiting ruminant livestock production to grasslands; tapping into the benefits of combined multi-crop-livestock farming; and improving the industrial production of pigs and poultry.

Acknowledgements:
Jean-Louis Peyraud, Jean-François Hocquette, Catherine Esnouf, Jean-Michel Chardigny, Bertrand Schmitt, Pierre Dupraz, Jocelyne Porcher.

Competing with human food: a false battle

80% of food consumed by livestock animals are not fit for human consumption. © INRA, Véronique Gavalda
80% of food consumed by livestock animals are not fit for human consumption © INRA, Véronique Gavalda

  PIGS POULTRY DAIRY COWS
Quantity of animal protein produced for 1kg of plant protein fit for human consumption 0.9 to 1.3 kg* 0.9 à 1.2 kg* 1 à 2 kg*

*: according to livestock production systems in France. Source: GIS Elevage Demain.

Livestock production uses mainly non-arable land

Distribution of land surface. Livestock production takes up 70 to 75% of farmland, but most of it is non-arable land (pastures). © INRA, Véronique Gavalda
Distribution of land surface. Livestock production takes up 70 to 75% of farmland, but most of it is non-arable land (pastures) © INRA, Véronique Gavalda