New report: current levels of animal production and consumption in the EU is proving very expensive


New report: current levels of animal production and consumption in the EU is proving very expensive

31 May 2023

What kind of impact does industrial livestock farming really have on the planet? We commissioned a new report by the Impact Institute, ‘External costs of animal sourced food in the EU’, to explore the various problems associated with these systems to people, animals and the environment. The numbers are shocking - but the solutions are clear.

The rate at which Europeans farm and consume animal products, including meat and dairy, is getting increasingly unsustainable. The latest evidence shows that this level of production and consumption is having huge effects on global problems, including climate change and public health, along with causing suffering to millions of sentient beings each year, as welfare standards for animals are not strong or enforced enough on European factory farms - something we’re currently campaigning to change.

As it stands, the rate at which the EU produces and consumes animal-sourced products has been linked to:

  • Poor animal welfare standards: because the animals reared on European factory farms often face issues including illness, being trapped in cages, poor nutrition, lack of capacity to express their natural behaviours, suffering during transport, and inhumane slaughter
  • The antimicrobial crisis: as antibiotics are used routinely on the animals within industrial systems, who as mentioned, are more prone to falling sick due to the poor conditions in which they are raised
  • Non-communicable diseases: as the scale at which red meat, like beef and pork, is being eaten has been linked to cardiovascular disease, kidney disease, and cancers in people
  • Environmental destruction: because of the way land is used to grow feed for animals, as well as because of the air pollution that is created by some factory farming systems (for instance, the ammonia produced from breeding broiler chickens at scale). The EU is already experiencing the first impacts of climate change, including severe weather and drought – almost one fifth of which can be attributed directly to greenhouse gases from meat and dairy production.

All of these issues stemming from industrial livestock farming come with great cost. Our new report estimates that the external costs produced by the industry are nearly eight times higher than any profits made by it. Transitioning to a sustainable farming future with high animal welfare standards, more plant-based diets, and nature and climate-friendly agricultural practices in place could save the EU a lot of money, as well as help to secure a happier and healthier future for the planet. 

Our food and farming systems urgently need to change 

The report estimates that if plant-based diets, less meat consumption, and high animal welfare standards were prioritised in Europe’s food and farming systems, then there would be a reduction of 79% of the external costs related to the environment, public health, and animal welfare that the current consumption and production of animal-sourced foods causes today. Download the report 'External costs of animal sourced food in the EU' here, to discover its full findings.

Policymakers shouldn’t delay. Our new report provides several recommendations and insights for them to bear in mind when they write new food, farming and animal welfare-related laws - and there are some great opportunities to incorporate them in their ongoing revision to the animal welfare legislation and upcoming focus on a Framework for Sustainable Food Systems.

Food and farming systems that are truly sustainable and good for animals, people and the planet start with high animal welfare standards! Learn more about the kind of Europe we’d like to see by 2050 in our ‘future of farming’ position paper.