Modern, ethical livestock production is here to stay

The socio-economic dynamics of an ever-growing and increasingly globalised human population are placing increasing demands on the world’s livestock producers. German Agricultural Society president, Carl-Albrecht Bartmer, explored these issues at the opening of EuroTier 2016.

Modern, ethical livestock production is here to stay
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Agricultural entrepreneurs, livestock and poultry farmers, as well as the entire value chain, prove their worth not in optimal conditions, but when times get tough. Given the debate in society about forms of modern animal husbandry, the globally networked nature of the sector, and other challenges, the conditions are very much against us.

At the same time, structural growth will remain on the agenda worldwide because demand for animal products is increasing dynamically.

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What is important now is to tap the potential in the markets and on one’s own farm by investing in efficiency and acting wisely. Put another way, everything revolves around how to adapt innovative methods to one’s own circumstances and in line with animal needs.

The international character of EuroTier as a leading exhibition of modern animal husbandry systems in rural areas proves that progress is not an end in itself.

Progress does not halt at national frontiers; it develops benefits worldwide. Consequently, globalisation is not a phenomenon created in elitist circles that we now have to put up with.

Globalisation in our thoughts and our activities is the only sensible and fruitful answer to the challenges presented by a planet that will soon be home to 10 billion people.

A better-fed world, but hunger remains
Modernisation and progress are among the reasons we can feed 1,5 billion more people today, and most of them better, than at the turn of the millennium. Even in the most disadvantaged regions of the world, where incomes are lowest, access to a glass of milk and a piece of meat has become easier. As a result, children are developing better and people are healthier because their diets are more wholesome.

But more needs to be done. One in 10 people still suffers from hunger or malnutrition, and we are not sufficiently sustainable in our consumption of resources, in the strain we put on our natural environment or in the way we breed and keep animals.

We can expect that society everywhere, especially in industrialised nations, will devote more attention to these issues as the environmental impact of nutrient loads in rivers, seas and groundwater, the use of medication, and odour emissions, become more evident.

All of this raises questions concerning costs and who is responsible. Given the long-term nature of the challenges facing us, it is not enough to regard sales and profits as the sole standard for further development of our production systems. This is perfectly clear to farmers who adhere to the principle of international responsibility.

The ethics of livestock farming
At the same time, the ethical attitude towards using animals is shifting, especially in developed societies. This has come about through people’s experience with pets, and has resulted in animals being seen more and more as fellow creatures deserving of justice.

We should approach this issue in a positive light, as it is by no means foreign to us. In fact, we should be bringing our own expertise based on daily contact with animals, and our knowledge about responsible, economically successful animal husbandry to the debate.

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One approach that will certainly not help is to sulk or conduct a long and nasty rearguard action; this will only see us lose the ability to act while ever- tougher measures are imposed on us.

In short, we need an active strategy, one that works towards sustainable agriculture and animal husbandry by 2030. This should begin with a self-critical analysis of the status quo, which will show that some of our processes are indeed indefensible.

All aspects need to be scrutinised, from the spatial concentration of animal husbandry with corresponding nutrient loads, to emissions into the atmosphere, the use of medication, breeding goals and animal welfare. Then we should set ourselves achievable goals and milestones taking us to 2030 and beyond.

Needless to say, in the process, we shall continually run up against the conflict between economic feasibility and what is desirable.

Measurable benefits
When it comes to what is desirable, we should press for direct, measurable benefits for the environment, as well as for animals. Simplistic demands, such as those for tightly closed regional material cycles, are just as unhelpful as the idea of animal welfare based not on the animals, but on humans and their concepts of animal wellbeing.

The conflict between feasibility and desirability is a challenge that we have to solve not ad hoc, but through ongoing modernisation. It will test our management skills and creativity, but we have powerful tools to help us, including digital solutions.

A single sector of the economy can never develop its own sustainable path to the future. The present debate calls for substantive answers, but we must also talk about this openly and on an equal footing with society.

Transparency in animal housing facilities through, for example, the use of webcams, is certainly feasible, as are attractive and tidy farmyards, animal housing facilities that are self-explanatory to laypeople, ongoing education and training systems for farm managers and staff, and public accolades such as ‘Best livestock farmer in the world’.

Most farmers possess untapped potential here and remain the most trustworthy ambassadors for communicating their activities to society.

Together with a professional sector-wide approach to reach the opinion-forming urban population, we can create acceptance in society, and thus our licence to operate.

We should invest in this with modern technologies and, at the same time, explain the benefits of sustainable animal husbandry to society. – Lloyd Philips

Adapted from German Agricultural Society president, Carl-Albrecht Bartmer’s, speech at the opening of EuroTier 2016 in Hannover, Germany, in November. Lloyd Phillips attended EuroTier 2016 as a sponsored guest of the Deutsche Landwirtschafts-Gesellschaft/German Agricultural Society.

The views expressed in our weekly opinion piece do not necessarily reflect those of Farmer’s Weekly.

For more information, visit the German Agricultural Society’s website at