La revue Viandes et produits carnés

La revue française de la recherche en viandes et produits carnés  ISSN  2555-8560

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The consumption of red meat is the subject of recurrent criticism

The consumption of red meat (beef, mutton, pork) is the subject of recurrent criticism. However, while it increases the risk of cancer in big eaters, the nutritional benefits of its incorporation into the weekly diet are numerous: intake of high-quality proteins, highly digestible iron and vitamin B12. The consumption of water taken from aquatic resources (600 liters per kilo of steak) is far from the 15,000 liters often claimed which is a value that includes rainwater. It is inaccurate to assert that cattle farming leads to an "unacceptable" waste of plant proteins: in France, it sometimes produces more proteins consumable by humans than it consumes. By enhancing the value of grasslands, which they are able to transform into meat and milk, cattle and sheep contribute to biodiversity, soil carbon sequestration, groundwater recharge with good quality water, land use planning. However, there is one criticism that must be made of livestock farming: it is a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. Geneticists, animal feed specialists and farmers must work together to reduce this impact. Finally, animal welfare must be guaranteed. Otherwise, consumers could turn to foods with lower impact on the climate: pulses, plant-based mince and even cultured meat.

Meat product benefits in children and adolescents

Consumption of meat products has been declining for some years among children and adolescents, motivated by moral and environmental arguments. The supply of properly absorbable iron is the main nutritional benefit of meat. To cover their iron needs, the French Society of Pediatrics recommends that children and adolescents consume 2 meat products per day. The risks of iron deficiency with its haematological, immunological and neuro-psychic consequences are increased in those who do not respect this recommendation. There are no documented risks in pediatrics associated with consumption of meat products at such recommended amounts. There is an urgent need to reverse the trend among young people to reduce their meat consumption.

Comparison of two methods for assessing land footprint

Agricultural land used to produce our food is a limited resource and must be preserved both in quantity and in quality. French ADEME (Barbier et al., 2020a; 2020b) and Australian (Ridoutt et al., 2020; Ridoutt and Garcia 2020) studies have developed methods for assessing land footprint of vegetal and animal agricultural production. We inferred the land footprint of typical French and Australian diets. These studies provide contrasting images regarding the footprint of different types of meat. In this article, we seek to understand and analyze reasons for differences. The ADEME study does not differentiate the different types of agricultural land; it brings out beef and sheep meats, produced mostly from grassland systems, with the largest footprint. Conversely, Australian studies accounts for agricultural land according to their potential yield; they do account for permanent grasslands, and therefore highlight monogastric meats (pork, poultry) as the most impacting ones. Thus, Ridoutt method leads to a relatively limited footprint of extensive livestock farming, mostly linked to grass consumption, and more broadly of ruminant meats, compared to meats from monogastric breeding that essentially feed on cereals and therefore use arable land. In terms of diets, those methodological differences lead to large differences in the meat share (all types of meat combined) of diet land footprint: it is three times less for Australian diets with a comparable meat consumption with respect to the French diet. Considering the many ecosystem services provided by grazeland, we therefore recommend the use of the Ridoutt methodology for the calculation of agricultural land footprint.

Environmental impact of different diets

The aim of this study is to give a more complete picture of the environmental impact of different eating habits in various European countries (Cyprus, Estonia, Finland, Portugal, Slovenia). Using life cycle analysis, the results show that, for all five countries, the total environmental impact is the result of the amount of consumption of a specific product combined with the intensity of that impact. In particular, livestock products (meat, eggs, dairy products) have consequences for all impact categories. Conversely, the transport and marketing phases contribute very little to the total damage. In addition to agricultural practices and consumption level of food products, the impact is significantly influenced by the type of food consumed, highlighting the importance of our food choices.

How can European livestock farming act on the levers of agroecology to face climate change ?

While livestock farming contributes heavily to climate change, the latter also has direct and indirect negative impacts on livestock systems. Agroecology represents a pathway to help the European livestock sector address the challenges raised by climate change, by reducing the ecological footprint of livestock activities, increasing the self-sufficiency of farms and reducing their sensitivity to hazards. In such perspectives, it would be appropriate to develop and mobilize animal diversity within farms and territories, to take advantage of the services rendered by livestock and to improve the distribution of livestock according to the local availability of feed resources. These three points together find their full meaning as part of the re-connection of livestock activities with their physical environment and crop production. In order to accompany the agro-ecological transition, farmers’ skills should evolve, as well as the approaches of agricultural education and counseling; agricultural and territorial politics should also be adapted. Such dynamics are already in motion but will have to be pursued. In addition, economic, socio-political and institutional aspects, which have not been analyzed here, should be taken into account.

Which method for environmental assessment and labeling for the ruminant red meat sector?

Interbev, the National Interprofessional Association of Cattle and Meat, took part in the experimentation of environmental labelling of food, promulgated by the AGEC law (anti-waste law for a circular economy) and the “Climate and resilience” law. The main objective for INTERBEV was to contribute to the evolution of LCA-based (Life Cycle Analysis) environmental methodologies and Agribalyse data base for LCI (Life Cycle Inventory). Currently these have shortcomings and methodological biases very unfavorable to ruminant meat production, which has a long-life cycle. Conversely, the environmental benefits recognized by society and public policies, linked in particular to the enhancement of grasslands and the associated ecosystem services (biodiversity, carbone sequestration) are not included. This project made it possible to rebalance the existing indicators - in LCA or non-LCA - making it possible to fill these gaps and to question certain aspects of the methodology used in Agribalyse (allocation, climate change, soil occupation). Different aggregation and weighting methods were evaluated, considering consumer expectations and priority issues identified by both stakeholders (including NGO in particular) and industry players. The results show that an assessment and labelling alternative to those based on LCA alone is not only possible but essential for a complete vision of agricultural systems and an informed choice of consumers.

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