Knowledge for better food systems

The protein puzzle. The consumption and production of meat, dairy and fish in the European Union

PBL (Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency) has published a new study which assesses the effects of present European meat, dairy and fish dietary consumption on biodiversity, land use and GHG emissions. The study has also developed a series of scenarios that model the effects of possible dietary and other shifts on global land use and GHG emissions by means of coupled macro-economic and environmental models. Regarding the present situation the main findings are:
    PBL (Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency) has published a new study which assesses the effects of present European meat, dairy and fish dietary consumption on biodiversity, land use and GHG emissions. The study has also developed a series of scenarios that model the effects of possible dietary and other shifts on global land use and GHG emissions by means of coupled macro-economic and environmental models. Regarding the present situation the main findings are:
    • Around 10% of the EU’s greenhouse gas emissions are caused by livestock production. Together, the beef and dairy sectors are responsible for two thirds of these emissions. The report gives a break down per sector and per source. Emissions attributed to a specific livestock sector also include feed production related emissions.
    • Average EU consumption of animal protein per capita is about twice the global average; Meat consumption in Europe is twice the world average; for dairy produce it is three times higher. Average EU consumption of meat, dairy and fish has increased strongly over the last 50 years.
    • The total per-capita protein consumption (including from vegetable sources) is about 70% higher than needed. This, in itself, probably would have no adverse effects on human health, if not for the associated intake of saturated fatty acids, which lead to increased risks of cardiovascular diseases. The average intake of saturated fatty acids is about 40% higher than recommended.
      • The report also includes a meta analysis of 44 LCA studies. All results are expressed per kg protein, to improve comparability across different products such as milk, meat, eggs and fish from aquaculture. The report next looks at a set of possible production and consumption oriented scenarios. These are the scenarios the report looks at:  And these are the effects the models throw up:
        • The options for the EU to reduce the impacts of livestock production can be grouped into three broad, partially complementary strategies: consumption shifts, resource efficiency and producing with fewer local impacts.
        • In the Reference Scenario, the greenhouse gas emissions related to global agricultural activities are projected to increase from 228 Pg CO2 eq, aggregated for the 1990-2010 period, to 286 Pg CO2 eq, aggregated for the 2010-2030 period.
        • According to the modeling results, changes in EU consumption patterns mainly affect land use and GHG emissions outside the EU. This significant finding is due to various economic and other feedback effects and to the current design of the CAP, which incentivises farmers to keep their land in production.
        • Compared with the situation in the Reference Scenario, greenhouse gas emissions in the ‘Healthier” diet option show a small decrease for the EU (mainly of CH4 and N2O, as a result of less livestock production), and a fairly large reduction worldwide, mainly of CO2 as a result of less land conversion.
        Here is analysis of the effects of these different changes on land use, GHG emissions and biodiversity – there are two sets of results because the report uses two kinds of models. NB: note that the organic scenario assumes an initial drop in demand due to the higher price of organic products, which then recovers to close to baseline levels by 2030. Here are the overall conclusions of the report – note that the report differentiates between global options and EU-only options, with the former focused on altered patterns of production while the latter considering shifts in consumption.
        • All the options that were expected to reduce agricultural land use as well as greenhouse gas emissions actually did so, according to the model calculations.
        • Global implementation of increased livestock efficiency, and a reduction in food waste, resulted in the largest environmental gains. Of the European options, a shift towards a healthier diet and a reduction in the consumption of animal products had the largest effects.
        • Interestingly, for all options implemented at the European level, the environmental benefits outside Europe appeared to be much larger than those within Europe, because EU policies discourage the retraction of agricultural land use, and because Modelling the effects of options towards a sustainable protein supply some potentially abandoned grasslands would be used for crop production (including biofuels), according to the model.
        • All options that would lead to a reduction in land use also showed a decrease in agricultural commodity prices, with the largest effects for the global options. It should be noted that large investments among other things in infrastructure, innovation and education would be needed to achieve a more efficient crop and livestock production.
        • The model results suggest that less than 50% of the theoretical environmental gains would actually be achieved, due to feedbacks in consumption and production. For example, price decreases would lead to an additional increase in consumption on the one hand, and to less efficient production, especially land use, on the other.
        • To some extent, these rebounds and leakage effects may benefit other policy targets: lower food prices would mean a better affordability of food and, hence, potentially reduce malnutrition. Extensification of production may also improve local environmental quality.
        • However, if such strong rebound effects are to be avoided, additional measures should be taken in parallel.
        • This suggests the need for strong potential synergies between the options and more ‘classical’ measures to prevent the conversion of natural and semi-natural land, and/or to promote the creation of natural and semi-natural conservation areas, including high nature value farmlands.
        • While most of the findings and conclusions presented above are supported by both models, significant differences exist between IMPACT and LEITAP, in terms of effect sizes and their geographic distribution. For example, according to the IMPACT results, much of the reduction in meat and dairy consumption within the EU would be compensated by a larger consumption in other regions. Such leakage effects are much smaller in LEITAP, because LEITAP calculated that price decreases in the EU Common Market would be insufficient to lead to a substantial decrease in world market prices from which it is shielded. As a consequence, most of the reduction in livestock production would also occur within the EU.
        • Such large differences between results from the two models, which were both employed to develop scenario projections on global land use, show that more extensive model comparisons are useful to gain more insight. In fact, as far as we are aware, this study is the first consistent model comparison of two global agro- economic models.
        For more information contact FCRN member Henk Westhoek.
     

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