There was a single moment in our debate that perfectly encapsulated the huge challenge we face in making livestock production kinder to our planet.
A farmer from Scotland stood up to share his experiences with the policymakers, Non-Governmental Organisations and food suppliers who had gathered for our EU40 event in Brussels.
“The extra cost of making sustainably-produced food must be paid for somewhere along the chain”, he said, adding that we must protect the livelihoods of the people producing our food.
It’s a simple message that underlines the enormous complexity of the difficulties we all face, and it was very satisfying for us to watch him deliver it to a room packed with decision-makers.
This event was the culmination of months of planning. As part of Elanco’s campaign for innovation in Europe, we wanted to bring together spheres who don’t have many opportunities to discuss their shared interests: the scientific world, the food and animal health sectors, and the policymakers whose decisions affect us all.
We knew that bringing these people together would be an ambitious undertaking, so we staged our debate in the heart of Europe, where policy across the continent is shaped. The EU40 group – a network of Members of the European Parliament aged 40 or younger – is known for its fresh approach to policy and we felt it would be the perfect partner.
We were also in no doubt about the sheer scale of the question we were debating; while the livestock sector is already making great strides towards more sustainable production, there is clearly more to be done before our food is produced in a way that’s environmentally sound, socially responsible and economically viable.
It was with no small degree of nervousness that we watched this cohort of MEPs from across the political spectrum file into the debating chamber alongside key opinion leaders from multiple industries.
But almost as soon as the discussion began, it was clear this was going to be a passionate and vital debate. We saw everything from a representative from an NGO raising the issue of meat consumption to the feed manufacturing sector talking about how this crucial commodity is becoming more sustainable.
There were many different voices, bringing many different perspectives, which was exactly what we’d hoped for. The sustainable livestock agenda has been dominated in recent years by stories about emissions or a reduction in meat consumption, but there seems to be a growing recognition that the livestock industry can and should be a pragmatic part of the solution.
Events like the EU40 debate have their part to play in making sure this message is received loud and clear by the policymakers whose decisions shape our continent.
The farmer who stood up and made his voice heard wasn’t the only speaker to ask how we take collective responsibility in funding a more sustainable industry. In our next debate in September (the second of three), we hope to pick up this economic thread and help lead the debate on an issue that affects every single one of us in Europe.