The role of animals in a circular food system

VENI project by Hannah van Zanten. Do we really need farm animals to secure human food nutrition? Or, can our food system be more sustainable without them?

The fact that farm animals provide essential nutrients for humans while causing major environmental problems fuels an often-polarised debate about the role of animals in sustainably feeding an ever-growing population.

The current debate ignores the potential of animals to recycle biomass unsuited for human consumption back into the food system. We recently showed that if we use farm animals for what they are good at - recycling biomass - they can contribute significantly to human food supply, while also reducing arable land use. Rearing animals under this circular concept, however, requires a transition from our current food production system towards a circular food system.

The aim of my Veni project is to evaluate the role of farm animals within a circular food system. I will develop a global model that determines the optimal role of farm animals in a circular food system. This will minimize land use and greenhouse gas emissions on a global scale while still meeting human nutritional needs. The results of this project will provide a boundary between sustainable production and animal-sourced food consumption for the growing world population.