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Thursday, 26 April 2007 - StrasbourgOJ edition

Question no 69 by Jens Holm (H-0198/07 )  
 Subject: The livestock sector - a major culprit in destruction of the environment

According to a new report by the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, FAO (Livestock's Long Shadow – Environmental Issues and Options, 2006), the livestock sector is one of the biggest destroyers of the environment in the world. It is responsible for no less than 18% of global greenhouse gas emissions – actually more than the combined emissions of greenhouse gases from the transport sector. Livestock's digestion and the manure they produce give rise to emissions of the powerful greenhouse gases methane and nitrous oxide. Emissions also occur when forests are felled to create pastureland, releasing carbon dioxide which was previously bound as carbon in trees. The production and transport of livestock, feed and meat also cause significant emissions.

The FAO stresses that it is very important to act vigorously to reduce the environmental impact of the livestock sector, and one way of doing so would be to ensure that the price of food reflects environmental costs. Other economic incentives may also be possible, for example environmental bonuses for plant production. Reducing the EU's agricultural subsidies would be an effective measure. Meat would probably become more expensive, which would halt the growth of meat consumption.

Does the Commission endorse the conclusions of the FAO report on the livestock sector's impact on greenhouse gas emissions? What measures will the Commission take to reduce substantially the adverse impact of the livestock sector on our environment?


(EN) The Commission acknowledges that the Food and Agriculture Organisation's (FAO) report raises important issues at global level. It will, however, focus its response on the situation in the EU.

Most economic activities lead to emissions of greenhouse gases (GHG). The EU objective is making economic activities more sustainable, also from a climate perspective. Agriculture, including livestock, accounted for 9% of total EU GHG emissions in 2004, of which more than 5% is nitrous oxide and 4% is methane (mainly from livestock).

Emissions of methane decreased by about 14% in the period 1990-2004, primarily as a result of a significant decrease in livestock numbers (by 22%). This trend is mainly due to successive structural changes of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). Almost all Member States reduced emissions from livestock, with largest decreases in the new Member States.

The reduction of overall agricultural emissions during 1990-2004 (13%) is considerably higher than the overall emissions reduction of all economic sectors (5%). Agriculture has therefore already made a significant contribution to the achievement of the Kyoto protocol commitment. Furthermore, emissions from agriculture are projected to decrease to a level of 18% below 1990 levels by 2010. The projected decrease of cattle numbers and increase in productivity is likely to contribute to further decline in methane emissions.

The Commission agrees that additional efforts can be made to reduce emissions from the livestock sector. In the latest reforms of the CAP, the Commission has taken important steps to change the way to support livestock sector. The total or partial decoupling of payments from production and cross-compliance are key measures that significantly reduce incentives towards intensive production. Climate change mitigation objectives have also been integrated into the rural development policy for 2007-2013.

Changes in livestock practices and adaptations of land use management, for example through improved diets or improved and integrated manure management, could be used to further reduce emissions of methane and nitrous oxide. Such measures are in line with the conclusions of the FAO report. Member States may well include such measures in their Rural Development Programmes for the period 2007-2013, in line with the EU Strategic Guidelines for Rural Development, which place climate change as one of the three environmental priorities at European level.

It is to be noted that the livestock sector, in particular grazing livestock, also provides important environmental services such as the maintenance of pastures and diversity of European landscapes. The livestock sector also significantly contributes to the economies of rural areas. Therefore it is important not to undermine the competitiveness of the European livestock sector, which faces an increasing world competition. Also, it has to be taken into account that, as world demand for animal products (meat, milk, eggs) is not likely to diminish, mitigation measures taken in the EU will not result in a net global reduction of emissions because of reallocation of livestock activities to other countries. The challenge is to reconcile the demand of livestock products and the protection of the environment, as the FAO report recognises.

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