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Livestock greenhouse gas emissions and mitigation potential in Europe

An article co-authored by the JRC has recently been published in Global Change Biology. The article, entitled ‘Livestock greenhouse gas emissions and mitigation potential in Europe’, reports on a study that examined greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the EU livestock sector (including GHG emissions from the production and consumption of livestock products), and reviews available mitigation options.

In 2007, GHG emissions from livestock products amounted to 12-17% of total EU GHG emissions. After production, the highest emissions arose from land use and land use change (LULUC) factors, followed by emissions from wasted food.

The study, which focused particularly on the beef and dairy sectors, found that GHG emissions from the EU livestock sector could potentially be mitigated by 12-61% (101-377 Mt CO2eq.), particularly by reducing consumption of animal products, minimising food waste, and by producing beef and dairy on grassland as opposed to intensive grain-fed production.

Livestock account for 80% of anthropogenic land use and consume about 35% of agricultural crops. The management of livestock systems is therefore key to the discussion of land competition and food security. Developed countries consume far more animal products per capita than developing countries. It is estimated that 20% of food products (8-12.5% of livestock products) go to waste in developed countries. GHGs could be mitigated by 39-79 Mt CO2eq. by avoiding the production and consumption of wasted animal products.

Protein intake in the EU is 70% higher than the levels recommended by the World Health Organization. A reduction in the consumption of livestock products would have both environmental and health benefits.

The report concludes that the EU reduction target of 20% by 2020 is achievable, but would require a reduction in waste and consumption. Waste minimisation would have the greatest impact on reducing GHG emissions, followed by avoiding deforestation for the purposes of livestock production. The study recommends that EU27 policies be developed to influence both production and consumption, and that:

  • Food waste minimisation should be encouraged
  • Support should be provided to help avoid deforestation in South America (impact on GHG import burdens)
  • Consumption patterns should conform to healthy eating guidelines
  • Production should favour more sustainable production systems
  • Land management practices should be optimised and the less-intensive grazing systems favoured. The import of feedstuffs from overseas countries should be reduced, especially if associated with high emissions from land use change, while rough grazing lands should be exploited in areas where this does not interfere with conservation efforts and biodiversity
  • Anaerobic digestion of food waste and animal manure should be implemented to reduce methane emissions and offset fossil fuel emissions.


 Some interesting figures

  • Global GHG emissions from livestock: 16-18%
  • EU27 contribution to global livestock emissions: 9-12%
  • EU27 share of global meat demand: 21%
  • EU27 share of global human population: 7.5%
  • EU27 animal-derived food waste impact: 56-115 Mt CO2eq. pa (8-17% of total livestock emissions)


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