Agriculture Ministers Weigh Food Security, Climate Impacts of Livestock Sector

25 January 2018

Agriculture ministers from nearly 70 countries called for a “more sustainable, more responsible, and more efficient” global livestock sector at a meeting on Saturday 20 January in Berlin, Germany, examining the issue through the lenses of trade, food security, and climate action.

A communiqué from the gathering, held annually in the margins of the Global Forum for Food and Agriculture, notes that demand for food of animal origin is due to grow quickly in many parts of the world. The document also acknowledges that consumers are calling for more sustainable production processes that respect animal welfare.

Participating countries included Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Chile, China, Egypt, France, Germany, India, Japan, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Spain, Switzerland, Turkey, and Ukraine. Also in attendance were representatives from the European Commission, as well as various international organisations.

The communiqué’s signatories further emphasise that livestock plays a major role in fighting hunger and malnutrition, as well as in reducing poverty – including “through promoting investment and trade and providing jobs in rural areas.”

The declaration calls for the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the related Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), as well as the UN’s Paris Agreement on climate change. Both Agenda 2030 and the Paris Agreement were adopted in late 2015. Regarding the former, world leaders committed to end hunger and malnutrition by 2030, as part of SDG 2, which focuses on food security and sustainable agriculture. (See Bridge Weekly, 30 September 2015)

In Berlin, ministers also recognised that livestock farming can pose risks to the environment, including by contributing to climate change. For example, livestock can produce significant amounts of methane emissions, a potent greenhouse gas, along with releasing nitrous dioxide and carbon dioxide.

“We are aware that livestock production can have environmentally significant impacts on soil, water, and air and contribute to climate change,” the communiqué says. It also cites figures from the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), which find that the sector accounts for 14.5 percent of anthropomorphic greenhouse gas emissions globally.

Improving livelihoods

Ministers have also put forward a “call for action,” where they highlight four broad areas that need to be addressed: ensuring food security and nutrition; improving livelihoods; protecting the environment; and improving animal health and welfare.

The livelihoods of around 1.3 billion people depend on the sector, the signatories said, with many of these also struggling against poverty and other challenges.

Ministers said they aim “to reaffirm the importance of rules-based trading systems to support the efficient, sustainable, and safe production and supply of food of animal origin.” They also recognised “the need to remove discriminatory trade barriers and to continue the WTO reform process on agriculture trade.”

Agricultural trade distortions were high on the agenda of the WTO’s Eleventh Ministerial Conference in Buenos Aires, Argentina, last December, but the meeting ended with no agreed outcome in the area. The direction of future WTO talks in this area remains unclear, with ministers also unable to endorse a work programme at the Buenos Aires meeting. (See Bridges Daily Update, 14 December 2017)

Beef, pork, and dairy markets remain among the five most distorted agricultural markets, with support to poultry also significant, according to data from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

Removing trade-distorting support completely would increase volumes of trade in meat, although this would result from a drop in beef trade and an increase in pork and poultry trade, according to analysis published by the International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development. (Editors’ note: ICTSD is the publisher of Bridges.)

Ministers also referred repeatedly to measures that could empower women in the agricultural sector, including “equal access to education and training” as well as “legally secure access” to land and financing, among others. The FAO has warned that women often face barriers to accessing these resources that do not affect their male counterparts in the same way – a disparity that can have damaging implications for food security and rural development.

The 69-country group said that their declaration would provide the “impetus” for future action. They also encouraged international bodies to work together on the issues identified in the communiqué, referring in particular to the FAO, the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE), the World Health Organization (WHO), the WTO, and the World Bank.

Some of these country officials are due to reconvene in Buenos Aires, Argentina, later this year for a meeting of G20 agriculture ministers. The meeting is set for 27-28 July, and the Argentine G20 presidency has outlined “a sustainable food future” as one of its three main priorities, citing the fact that G20 members make up the vast bulk of global food and agricultural goods trade. Their focus, however, will be more on sustainable soil management than on livestock.

ICTSD reporting.

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