European meat production – effective practices for the reduction of greenhouse gases

European meat production – effective practices for the reduction of greenhouse gases

Environmental protection and counteracting climate change are one of the key challenges for the future of food production on our globe. Ethics, care for nature or introduction of new technologies are constantly on the agenda of the EU and European enterprises, including food growers and manufacturers. The European Green Deal is to further facilitate our activity within this scope by financing research in new sources of feed[1], development of renewable energy sources in rural areas, use of by-products of livestock breeding for energy and fertiliser purposes or support of the most sustainable, low-emission methods of livestock production.

The reduction of greenhouse gas emissions in animal production can be based on four pillars:

  • Nutrition management
  • Management of metabolites and by-products
  • Effective processing and renewable energy
  • Herd management


Nutrition management

The type of feed additives and crops intended for animal feed has a significant impact on the emission of greenhouse gases, especially in the case of cattle breeding and beef production. The emission of greenhouse gases depends on multiple factors, such as feed pH, condition of the animals, share of fibre, protein, special functional additives or methods for feed base cultivation. The research shows that the share of functional oils can reduce greenhouse gas emissions in ruminants even by 16%[2]. Substances with such an effect can be found in plants hitherto not cultivated on a large scale, for instance herbs[3], aromatic plants[4], algae[5] or flax[6], whose sown area will increase within the framework of activities related to biodiversity. The origin of products is also of great importance – the European Union places great emphasis on the effective use of by-products of the food industry in livestock feeding. The sufficient degree to which crops are replaced with by-products can contribute to the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions due to animal production by as much as 18%[7]. Within the framework of the “from farm to fork” policy, research will be continued on the use of by-products of the food industry and new raw materials, such as algae or insects[8].

Management of metabolites and by-products

The reduction of greenhouse gas emissions is especially efficient for pig farming and pork production, both at the farm level and at the processing facility level. The research shows that thanks to the proper management of slurry and waste you can reduce emissions by almost 100%, mainly through the generation of electricity, water vapour, heat and effective natural fertilisers, simultaneously reducing emissions from waste stored[9]. The European Green Deal provides support for agricultural biogas plants[10], which reduce the emission of gases very effectively thanks to their low emissions due to the short supply chain of substrate.

Effective processing and renewable energy

The same effect can be observed with biogas plants erected at abattoirs – raw materials which are not fit for human consumption  can be quickly and easily used to generate heat, vapour and electricity, to be utilised by the processing facility. It is worth noting that as many as 11.2 thousand new biogas plants were created in the European Union between 2009 and 2017 to process by-products of the agricultural and food industry, including manure and slurry[11]. Livestock buildings and processing facilities are usually located in non-urbanised areas, where it is easier to efficiently acquire solar and wind energy. The “from farm to fork” policy stands for the prioritised use of farm buildings as optimal places for the assembly of installations aimed at generating energy from renewable sources[12]. Energy generated is used at the farm or facility without the external infrastructure, which increases the energy efficiency of the system, at the same time reducing emissions related to energy generation.

Herd management

Based on the knowledge in various fields, multiple systems are applied in the European Union for the more sustainable animal production which generates less emissions. One example is the Life Beef Carbon initiative, aimed at the development of the best environmental practices in cattle breeding and production[13]. Thanks to such practices as the improved feed efficiency, better management of manure, feeding and pasture, it is possible to reduce emissions from several to tens of percentage points. The initiative is aimed at reducing the average emissions from the cattle sector by 15% within the next decade[14].

There are multiple ways to counteract climate change – for instance we can choose meat produced in an environmentally-friendly manner. Buying meat from the European Union you can be sure that you have made the right choice, as EU meat can have a carbon footprint which is a dozen or so percentage points lesser than that of the meat from other regions of the world[15].