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Ireland at the forefront of FAO effort to harmonize measurement of livestock's environmental performance

Common indicators and guidelines for environmental assessments will lead to shared understanding of environmental impacts, and potentially better policymaking

Teagasc and the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine are at the forefront of a new FAO-led partnership aimed at improving the assessment of the environmental impacts of the livestock industry, a necessary first step in improving the sustainability of this important food production sector.

Livestock-production and the consumption of animal products make a crucial contribution to the economic and nutritional well-being of millions of people around the world - particularly in developing countries.

As the global consumption of meat, dairy products and eggs continues to rise, increasing attention is being paid to the livestock sector's environmental performance - such as the efficiency with which it uses scarce natural resources, its impact on water resources and how it contributes to climate change.

Currently, many different methods are being used across the globe to measure and assess the environmental impacts of animal production, making it difficult to compare results and set priorities for the continuous improvement of environmental performance along supply chains.

At the launch of the FAO partnership, Dr Pierre Gerber, a Senior FAO livestock policy officer said: "We must establish a shared understanding of how to assess the environmental performance of the livestock sector. The goal is to improve that performance and create more sustainable forms of production that will continue to provide food and income. To do that, we need reliable quantitative information on key environmental parameters along livestock supply chains as an evidence base from which to drive improvements."

Commenting on the launch, Teagasc’s Director of Research Dr. Frank O’Mara said: “In the current climate it no longer suffices to claim that Irish agriculture is green; we have to prove it, and we have to improve it. This partnership with the FAO will make sure that we do this in collaboration – rather than in competition with our scientific colleagues around the world.”

Collaborative effort

FAO and governmental, private-sector, and nongovernmental partners will work together on a number of fronts to strengthen the science of environmental benchmarking of livestock supply chains.

Speaking at the launch, Dr Rogier Schulte said: food security and environmental sustainability are global challenges that no single country – nor any individual food sector can solve on their own. At the same time – each country and sector has to be part of the solution. This partnership allows us to embed Teagasc’s own sustainability programme within the best international science – and vice versa – allowing us to share our expertise with colleagues around the world.

Among the founding members of the partnership are: the governments of France, Ireland, the Netherlands and New Zealand, The European Feed Manufacturers' Federation (FEFAC), the European Vegetable Oil and Proteinmeal Industry (FEDIOL), the International Dairy Federation, (IDF) the International Meat Secretariat (IMS), the International Egg Commission (IEC) the International Poultry Council (IPC), the International Federation for Animal Health (IFAH), and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).

That core membership is expected to expand over the coming months.