Introducing EU Project STEP UP: Improving the Sustainability of European Livestock

European livestock production has always been an important part of the continent’s food system. Humans have raised animals to produce meat, milk, and other products for centuries. Livestock is also kept and maintained for wool and leather production, riding, racing, and drafting. However, in recent years, the need for a change within the European livestock production system has risen. If you are curious to find out why the need for a change has occurred, keep reading our blog. Because you will learn why livestock production is significant, and how the Horizon Europe project – STEP UP – plans to help.

Definition of Sustainable Livestock Production

Sustainable livestock production refers to all approaches and practices employed to decrease negative environmental impact, protect natural resources, and enhance economic resilience while meeting the needs of raising animals for food. Furthermore, sustainable livestock production is an animal-based food system that is vital for achieving most of the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals. By making livestock production more sustainable we can address climate change and contribute to the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. When it comes to improving the economy, sustainable livestock production plays an important role in increasing productivity, reducing costs, creating jobs and stimulating economic activity in rural areas.

Challenges in European Livestock Production

In recent years, with the expansion of the human population, demand for livestock food products has increased. This tendency influenced multiple different domains, including economy, environmental sustainability, and public health. However, with the growth of the need for meat and other animal-based products, several challenges have appeared. These challenges include:

  • environmental concerns
  • ethical considerations
  • implications for human health

Negative environmental effects refer to the contribution to climate change, eutrophication of ecosystems, and intensive resource use. According to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), when considering the whole food chain which contributes 30 per cent of greenhouse emissions, animal agriculture is a major player.

Additionally, ethical reasons, mostly regarding societal concern for animal welfare have occurred. These concerns are mainly focused on the treatment of animals and their rights during production, transport, and slaughter.

Finally, considerations regarding human health have appeared. Increased risk of certain chronic diseases can be connected to excessive meat consumption. Also, zoonosis, a type of infectious disease that transmits from animals to humans, can pose a huge threat to people’s health.

So, now is a great opportunity to ask ourselves what kind of livestock we want to have. Should it threaten the environment, neglect animal welfare, and compromise human health? Or should we strive for sustainability?

Introducing STEP UP

A new Horizon Europe project kicked off in 2024. Running from January 2024 to December 2027, STEP UP aims to upgrade EU livestock production. Teagasc is Ireland’s Agriculture and Food Development Authority which leads a consortium of 16 partners that will work together on upgrading European Livestock Production Systems (ELPS) based on the data collected from the analysis of Innovative Livestock Production Systems (ILPS). The technology-driven techniques integrated in ILPS will lead to more informed and sustainable livestock farming, helping to improve efficiency, decrease environmental impact, and enhance animal welfare.

Revolutionizing Livestock Food Systems

STEP UP is a project driven by a commitment to revolutionise livestock food systems and make them more sustainable. Thanks to this project:

  • over 3000 farmers from more than 20 European countries will be able to enhance their sustainability practices.
  • more than 35 ELPS are going to be transformed into models of sustainability, promoting not just healthy livestock but also inclusive agricultural practices.
  • 10 to 12 ILPS are going to go through assessments using advanced methodologies, paving the way for more efficient and environmentally friendly agriculture approaches.
  • 10 or more new indicators for measuring the impacts and externalities of ELPS will be introduced.
  • over 5 methods for capturing environmental and social aspects of livestock systems will be developed, ensuring a comprehensive understanding of their sustainability implications.

Creating Sustainable Livestock Systems

STEP UP aims to collaboratively develop sustainable ELPS through evidence-based assessments and validation of models that align with principles of circularity and transparency. The project will focus on developing methodologies for assessing the sustainability of various ELPS, thereby providing evidence to support the formulation of policies promoting sustainable livestock systems. Stakeholder engagement and knowledge dissemination will be enhanced, establishing a transdisciplinary approach to future-proofing the livestock value chain.

Early Steps of the Project

STEP UP is ready to embark on its journey, starting with the assessment of existing EU livestock production systems.
Plans are underway for:

  • establishing a comprehensive data repository to quantify impacts and externalities
  • compiling an analysis report that will detail current national/regional visions and strategies
  • identifying potential archetypes of future livestock scenarios, with ongoing work in progress

Summing Up

In conclusion, the imperative for change in European livestock production systems is clear, driven by growing demands, environmental concerns, ethical considerations, and implications for human health. The introduction of the STEP UP project under Horizon Europe makes significant progress towards addressing these challenges. By focusing on sustainability, circularity, and transparency, STEP UP aims to revolutionize livestock food systems, transforming them into models of inclusivity and efficiency.

As we embark on this journey, the early steps of the project signal promise and commitment. From establishing comprehensive data repositories to compiling analysis reports and identifying future scenarios, STEP UP is ready to make tangible progress towards its goals. With collaboration, innovation, and evidence-based approaches, we can create a future where livestock production is not only sustainable but also contributes positively to society, the economy, and the environment.

Follow STEP UP Newsroom for updates on the project’s progress and join us in shaping the future of European livestock production.