TRAnsforming the DEbate about Livestock Systems Transformation (TRADE)

Principal Investigator: Professor Moran, University of Edinburgh

Livestock has been central to UK agriculture for centuries, being culturally embedded in the popular image of national farming systems.

But the sustainability of the sub-sector is increasingly questioned due to the environmental and health impacts related to production methods and meat and dairy consumption. Livestock will have to play a role if the UK is to meet climate change mitigation targets. Meat consumption, particularly processed meat, is under scrutiny for its potentially detrimental health impacts. Some production systems are constantly criticised due to their animal welfare impacts.

There is some consensus around the idea that livestock farming must change or transform, but there is less agreement on how this might happen. A shared view of a specific system’s challenges and opportunities is a prerequisite to the development of a system transformation. Yet it is unclear whether stakeholders in the livestock sector share the same vision of the system and its current structure and where it needs to get to.

TRADE will work with sector stakeholders, including:

  • scientists
  • farmers
  • processors
  • retailers
  • consumers
  • investors
  • policy makers.

We will seek a consensus on the increasingly contested role of livestock in the UK agricultural economy, balancing its market value and opportunities for innovation with its less tangible contributions to food systems, health, rural economies and social wellbeing. We will substantiate consensus with evidence of the innovation potential in production systems (for example, genetics and breeding techniques), and with reference to public preferences for the future of livestock systems in the UK and internationally.

Ultimately, the objective is to understand and measure the environmental, health, economic and societal trade-offs inherent in transformation scenarios. Without better quantification of these trade-offs we are unlikely to develop consensus on transformational pathways that address relative gainers and losers.

TRADE will comprise five work packages using mixed qualitative and quantitative methods to explore better integration of social science with biological sciences. This will help us to understand and mitigate societal, political and economic barriers that may hinder the uptake of new solutions. Our objectives are:

  1. Mapping UK stakeholders and determining baseline production and consumption patterns and associated market and non-market impacts (net external costs), their origin, distributional impact and regulation
  2. Understanding competing views on the technical, economic, behavioural and policy potential of production technologies and supply side shifts to regulate market and non-market impacts
  3. Understanding evolving health and social impacts and public preferences for livestock goods and related ecosystem services
  4. Understanding regulatory objectives and establishing consensus on roles and responsibilities of market participants and government
  5. Iterative modelling of the livestock system using participatory methods and co-constructed scenarios
  6. Development of a co-constructed pathway to specific and measurable outcomes related to market, environment health and the social impacts associated with the production and consumption of livestock products.

The project will ultimately define an agreed pathway to transform the UK livestock sector in readiness for a changing future.