Why We Need a Just Transition within Livestock Production

Over the past fifty years, food systems – especially the livestock sector – have evolved rapidly. The creation of a mass intensification system, coupled with rising income has led to an increase in both demand and supply of meat. This industrial approach to livestock production, however, is fraught with many challenges, including: 

  • Workers’ rights are not respected and women workers are often the most exploited.
  • The mass production of animal meat and indiscriminate consumption makes humans vulnerable to zoonotic diseases, like the Coronavirus. 
  • Livestock production also has an impact on the climate. Currently, about 14.5 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions come from livestock. Livestock and their feed take up 83% of agricultural land. Yet, meat and dairy products provide only 18% of global calories and 37% of global protein supply.

These trends, if allowed to continue, are detrimental to the health of humans and the planet. Animal agriculture could take up to 49% of the GHG budget allowable under the Paris Agreement by 2030. Given the importance of shifting the food system to meet the Paris Agreement and to feed a growing global population while diminishing inequality, engaging in a Just Transition for livestock production has become crucial and urgent. 

As defined by the International Trade Union Confederation, Just Transition “secures the future and livelihoods of workers and their communities in the transition to a low-carbon economy.” It ensures that as we shift to sustainable means of production and consumption, we do not create more challenges nor widen the gap of inequality. Rather, it means that we find long-lasting solutions to existing issues that consider every member of society.

At the core of 50by40’s advocacy for a fair, healthy, and compassionate food system lies the need for an equitable and Just Transition. We work towards this by building platforms to convene global partners and stakeholders from all sectors.

To kickstart this important conversation toward speeding the transition towards a fair, healthy and compassionate food system, we recently hosted “A Just Transition within Livestock Production,” a virtual independent Food Systems Dialogues event. 

While the benefits of transitioning towards plant-based diets have been documented in recent publications such as the IPCC Special Report on Climate Change and Land and the EAT-Lancet report, the actual pathways to an equitable transition for farmers, growers, processors, and other workers across the food supply chain have not been sufficiently researched and explained. This has created a worrisome gap between modelling scenarios and on-the-ground action and is why we felt this particular conversation was needed. 

The event, moderated by 50by40 Executive Director Lasse Bruun, brought together key stakeholders across the different sectors and disciplines to map pathways for farmers, growers, processors, and other workers within the livestock production sector. 

The dialogue centred around six key aspects of a Just Transition. The takeaways from this productive discussion, which will inform the next steps of our strategy, include:

  • A just approach to global food production must involve International governments working together, especially when formulating trade regulations.
  • To revitalize rural areas, farmer’s must be recognised as essential and dignified. Policies must also be context-specific, recognizing the needs and vulnerabilities of different communities.
  • For research to effectively provide sufficient evidence to governments and policymakers, we must identify holes in existing research as well as how to get appropriate funding.
  • There must be a shift away from factory farming while still satisfying individual needs. Also, work needs to be done to create a strong economic case for sustainable agro-ecological farming.
  • Post COVID-19 investments play a huge role in boosting a future of food that is eco-friendly and nutritionally beneficial to humans. This involves creating innovation at the farmer level, coordinating messages to the investment community and shortening supply chains.
  • A Just Transition dialogue must be included in upcoming, relevant policy conversations to influence policymakers.

Finally, an overarching message that emerged from the different breakout sessions is that moving to a “circular economy” will be necessary to measure the success of this food systems’ transition. Before we can achieve this, however,  there needs to be more and equal representation at the seat of discussion.

The intention behind this event was to be a conversation-starter, and, in that, we believe we have been successful.  Ultimately, we aim to make Just Transition a key strategy in our global efforts to ensure the resilience of food systems for all involved.

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