Strategic Research & Innovation Agenda

More than ever the livestock sector needs to rely on public investment in research to accelerate its transition to more sustainable food systems. This includes in particular a better understanding of the contribution that animal nutrition science can make to support animal health and welfare and reduce environmental emissions while  maintaining the highest feed safety standards.

The Farm to Fork strategy aims at improving the sustainability of food systems and their resilience with the primary objective of ensuring food security. This is a very legitimate objective and FEFAC subscribes to it. Several voices point to EU livestock production, in particular intensive systems, as being responsible for all problems and unsustainable by nature. FEFAC does not subscribe to that and is one of those who believe that the EU should invest in “curing” the livestock systems rather than “killing” it, for the simple reason that reducing livestock production in the EU will by no means reduce the global consumption of animal products. 

There is potential for the improvement of the performance of livestock production systems when it comes to animal welfare, reduction of the need for antimicrobials or environmental emissions. This supposes research in various disciplines, whether animal health, genetics, housing, and, last but not least, animal nutrition.

When defining its strategic research and innovation agenda in 2012 together with other partners, FEFAC identified at the time three top priorities: i) optimising nutrient resource efficiency, ii) healthy animals for healthy humans and iii) socially responsible livestock farming. These three topics are still relevant today, if not more so.

Having said that, an effective, result oriented research programme must be multi-disciplinary. Based on this conviction, FEFAC joined the Animal Task Force, a gathering of Research Institutes across Europe and organisations of industrial sectors connected to livestock farming with a view to draft a common vision of tomorrow’s livestock production systems adapted to their environment but still with the capacity to fulfil their primary mission: delivering safe, high quality, affordable meat, milk and eggs in sufficient quantity while meeting also societal and environmental demands. 

The success of the Farm to Fork strategy requires a strong scientific baseline, by opposition to beliefs and unscientifically founded opinions. In this sense, FEFAC welcomes the objective to stimulate research and pre-evaluation by testing. It should foresee in particular:

  • an in-depth evaluation of the performance of the different systems, whether organic, extensive or intensive, not to oppose them but rather to foster their complementarity and highlight the improvement margins and relevant indicators of progress;
  • robust scientific evidence investigating the interlinkage of plant nutrition, animal nutrition, microbial nutrition and human nutrition in a holistic “One Nutrition” approach;
  • development of innovative techniques to better understand the way animals naturally cope with the presence of stressors in their environment and therefore their ability to optimise interactions feed/gut/microbiota to enhance their immune systems and reduce the need for antimicrobial treatment.

The uptake of digital technologies is seen as a key element to help the farming sector on its way to improved sustainability. Precision feeding is for example a vector of optimisation of nutrient efficiency. FEFAC joined other organisations of the agri-supply chain and Copa-Cogeca to develop together a code of conduct of data sharing to ensure that the data originator keeps a leading role on the way its data are used, so as to keep the added value of data sharing within the agri chain.

External links

  • ATF Vision Paper towards European Research and Innovation for a sustainable and competitive livestock production sector in Europe
  • ATF / Plants of the Future ETP joint paper on Research and Innovation towards a more sustainable and circular European agriculture: Exploring synergies between the livestock and crop sectors