Sustainable livestock farming results from pluralism, regulation and creativity

September 16, 2022

‘Pluralism, diversity, regulation, social responsibility and creativity provide the future solution for sustainable livestock farming. Maximising profit and mass-production is not the correct way out of the current crisis,’ says Simon Oosting during his inaugural address as professor and chairholder of Animal Production Systems at Wageningen University & Research on 15 September. In his address, Oosting stood up for his severely criticised colleague scientists working on the nitrogen crisis.

The livestock sector is essential to the world population. Animals provide food in the shape of meat, eggs and milk. But they also plough the land in some countries, produce manure to fertilise it, and act as an alternative to insurance or a bank. It is, however, becoming increasingly apparent that we pay a steep price for keeping cows, pigs, and chickens, but also animals such as fish and guinea pigs. Oosting’s group focuses on studying the role of livestock sector in sustainable food systems.

Sustainability: irreconcilable values

The concept of sustainability in science is frequently divided into social, economic and environmental values. These values are frequently at odds with each other. At the same time, science presumes that a question ultimately has only one solution. If we answer as many questions as we can, it should eventually bring us closer to our ideal, enabling us to create a better world.

This reasoning does not apply to the issue of the future of sustainable livestock farming due to its incompatible values, says Oosting. ‘Thousands of farmers have started a different type of business,’ the professor states, ‘Care farms, organic farms, urban farms, and farmers who collaborate with citizens. Brave people who chose a different pathway, frequently without the help of the government or banks.’

Pluralism and diversity

And this is good because there is no single one-size-fits-all solution to achieve sustainable livestock farming. Pluralism and diversity are key. Oosting: ‘We must facilitate all these new and diverse agricultural systems and offer them equal opportunities. Thus we may be able to unite the social, economic and nature values.’

In his speech, Oosting stood up for colleagues being targeted in the (social) media for their role in the current nitrogen crisis. He argues that scientists must speak out against this kind of populism and take a more visible position in the debate. ‘The nitrogen issue stems from political decisions and is certainly not the result of short-sighted science, as people occasionally suggest’, says Oosting.