IJM (Imke) de Boer IJM (Imke) de Boer

Professor Livestock & Sustainable Food Systems

The future role of animals in our food system is heavily debated nowadays. A central question is: what role, if any, does animal-source food play in a sustainable diet? This question is complex and context-specific, and there is no unique, simple solution. I feel privileged to be able to explore this complex question, which touches upon one of the essences of human life: eating healthy and well.

Our research shows that animals can potentially play a key role in a healthy and circular food future. Such animals, however, would not consume human-edible biomass, such as cereals, but mainly convert leftovers from arable land and grass resources into valuable food and other ecosystem services. By converting these biomass streams, animals recycle nutrients back into the food system that otherwise would have been lost in food production. This, however, also implies that we should no longer focus on increasing life-time productivity of animals, but on improving their utilization efficiency of biomass unsuited for humans. The latter also opens doors to improve the health and welfare of animals, another essential element of sustainable animal production and consumption. By unravelling the complexity of sustainability concerns in livestock systems and exploring options to produce with respect for the planet, the animal and society, my research group and I contribute to a sustainable food system in the future.