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Making livestock farming sustainable

AnimalFuture is a project that aims to assess the multi-dimensional consequences of innovations on benefits (cash flow, income, jobs, product quality and safety, ecosystem services etc.) and costs (use of scarce natural resources, health and welfare) of livestock farming. It is a European project coordinated by Muriel Tichit, a scientist at INRA.

Sustainable livestock farming
Updated on 09/25/2018
Published on 07/31/2018

With increasing demands for both a sustainable and competitive livestock sector around the globe, actors right along the livestock value chain need to innovate if they are to find ways to respond to these growing ecological and socioeconomic challenges. Livestock farming certainly generates benefits that exceed the production of food – landscape conservation, provision of employment or natural fibres to name just a few – but costs also need to be addressed. In order to reduce these costs, sustainability actions must be chosen wisely.

A comprehensive approach to sustainability

An improvement in one sustainability aspect – for example an increase in biodiversity – could also have an impact on other aspects such as economic or social. While there may be synergies between different sustainability aspects, improvements in one aspect may well lead to trade-offs in another. For example, if farmers in high-density livestock areas choose to let their livestock outdoors for animal welfare reasons, ammonia emissions given off by the livestock into the local environment may exceed a tolerable level both in terms of air quality and in terms of quality of life for neighbouring communities. Furthermore, there is increasing demand for regionally produced protein feedstuffs in dairy, pig and poultry farming, but is the current domestic production sufficient and, if so, at what cost for farmers and the environment? Sustainability needs to be addressed comprehensively. Banning cows in one region only to import milk from another will merely solve emission problems in a small restricted area – not globally. Translocation effects and synergies must not be neglected when assessing the sustainability of livestock farming. Moreover, farm sustainability is a necessary but not sufficient condition to overall sustainability because a sustainable farm can occur in an unsustainable region. To enable livestock farming to achieve complete sustainability, AnimalFuture will tackle such issues in close co-operation with practitioners and key stakeholders from the livestock value chains across Europe.

Sustainability is a complex issue. It is difficult to fully understand interrelations between environmental, economic and social aspects and even more challenging to estimate the impact of sustainability measures. This makes it important to provide decision makers – be they farmers, policymakers or other stakeholders – with easy-to-understand information about how sustainability can be assessed and improved in their own area of action.

The AnimalFuture DST

For that purpose, AnimalFuture will develop a ‘decision support tool’ (DST) which will allow decision makers to estimate the impact of sustainability measures and innovations (i.e. precision feeding or smart buildings) at farm level. The DST will support decision makers in their operational planning and daily practice by integrating both sustainability and competitiveness constraints and enabling a win-win situation for both the environment and the consumer. However, constraints and conditions vary greatly from one European region to another and from one type of livestock to another, so customised solutions are a key challenge for the AnimalFuture partners.

To create the DST, 150 livestock farms within ten European regions, each specialised in a particular type of livestock, will be thoroughly analysed. Furthermore, the DST will integrate farm data collected in the respective regions through an intensive knowledge exchange with all relevant actors. It will analyse the impact of innovations not only at the three sustainability aspects but also on multiple levels – from farm to region to Europe.

The DST will be developed in three main steps:

  •  Multiple actors: AnimalFuture considers it essential to involve agricultural practitioners and other relevant actors of the livestock value chain in all steps. 
  •  Multiple dimensions: Various scenarios will be modelled for the test farms. This means that impacts of different sustainability measures and innovation will be simulated at farm level, thus revealing trade-offs and synergies. Economic, ecological and social aspects will be considered for the sustainability evaluation. Animal welfare will receive special attention within the framework of AnimalFuture. 
  • Multiple levels: By upscaling the results of the farm-level assessment, sustainability can be evaluated in a wider geographical context. Side effects of sustainability actions (leakages, trade-offs, synergies and displacement effects) can be captured from the regional to the national to the European level.

The DST will take the form of an interactive web-based dashboard offering decision makers an easy-to-access and easy-to-use tool.

Another important pillar of AnimalFuture is therefore knowledge transfer and active dissemination of project results. Intensive outreach activities will ensure that policymakers, farmers and other stakeholders as well as scientists are informed in a timely manner of project outcomes and, in particular, the potential of the DST for practitioners. 

Scientific contact(s):

Associated Division(s):
Science for Action and Development
Associated Centre(s):

Project insights


  • ERA-NET Cofund SusAn: Sustainable Animal Production
  • Funded by the EU research and innovation programme Horizon 2020
  • Project started in June 2017 and will run for 36 months.


  • French National Institute for Agricultural Research, France
  • University of Natural Resources & Life Sciences, Austria
  • Wageningen University, the Netherlands
  • Scotland’s Rural College, United Kingdom
  • Bavarian State Research Centre, Germany
  • Agrifood Research and Technology Centre of Aragón, Spain
  • French Livestock Institute, France
  • Associação do Instituto Superior Técnico para a Investigação e Desenvolvimento (IST-ID), Portugal