Sustainability Pathways

Sustainability and Organic Livestock

Food security, climate change and biodiversity loss belong to the key challenges for a sustainable development of humankind. In particular, livestock production and the increasing demand for meat, egg, milk and dairy products have led to several environmental problems that are a major threat for food security. Different forms of livestock production have different impacts on natural resources and supply‐demand interactions seem to be a key factor for finding effective and efficient solutions to these global challenges.

Organic livestock systems, characterized by decreased dependence on fossil fuel-based inputs and more integrated production, could have an interesting role in supply-demand interactions, due to multiple environmental impacts and ability to generate a higher willingness to pay for organic produce. So far, the trade‐offs and synergies between food availability, climate change, biodiversity and other land use impacts have only been addressed in the context of conventional production, and the specific characteristics and potentials of organic livestock systems have not been modeled in an integrated effort. Such a scenario is particularly interesting to forecast potential shocks to food systems, for instance, fossil fuel price hikes that restrict synthetic input use and transportation that are vital to sourcing animal feed in the conventional sector.

The Sustainability and Organic Livestock (SOL) project (see Concept Note) seeks to evaluate the potential impact of a global conversion of livestock to organic management on land use change and food availability. More specifically, the project: (i) models the impact of upscaling livestock production globally on food availability, climate change, biodiversity and other land use impacts; and (ii) develops scenarios that analyze the trade‐offs and synergies of different levels of organic conversion on food security and the environment. The preliminary results of SOL-m are available here.

Papers related to some aspects of the SOL-m outcomes were presented to the LCA Conference and the IFOAM Congress in 2014.

SOL-m outcomes were published in two batches: 

  • Royal Society paper on Impacts of Feeding Less Food-Competing Feedstuffs to Livestock on Global Food System Sustainability (December 2015);
  • Nature Communications paper on Strategies for Feeding the World More Sustainably with Organic Agriculture (November 2017).
Environmental impacts of a global conversion to organic agriculture in 2050, in combination with 50% reduction in food wastage and 100% reduction in food-competing feed