YAS-33406 The role of Livestock in Future Food Systems


Credits 6.00

Teaching methodContact hours
Group work3
Excursion (one day)11
Course coordinator(s)dr. ir. HHE van Zanten
Lecturer(s)prof. dr. ir. IJM de Boer
dr. ir. HHE van Zanten
Examiner(s)prof. dr. ir. IJM de Boer

Language of instruction:

English (exception: a part of the project paper, the advice to the farmer, must be in Dutch).

Assumed knowledge on:

We assume general understanding of animal production systems, and disciplinary knowledge on nutrition, breeding, reproduction, health and welfare of kept animals as acquired in the 1st and 2nd year BDW courses at WU [or HAS Den Bosch].


This course aims to discuss the role of livestock in future food systems. The challenge to produce enough nutritious food for a growing and more prosperous population in a sustainable way is currently broadly acknowledged. It is now also largely undisputed that the livestock sector uses a great deal of our natural resources, and contributes significantly to environmental issues. What role, if any, livestock do play in a sustainable food system is heavily debated. The aim of this course is to show different futures about the role of livestock in a sustainable food system, as outlined in the scientific literature, and to understand and discuss arguments underlying these futures. We focus particularly on the potential role of livestock in the 'circular food system'. In a circular food system, we use biomass at its highest utility, just like in a natural ecosystems. Livestock do play a key role in a circular food system, as they can convert biomass inedible for humans, so-called leftovers, into nutritious animal-source food. The amount of animal-source food that can be obtained from leftovers, however, depends on their type and availability (e.g. by-products food industry, food waste, crop residues, grass from marginal land), and their utilization potential by animals. A circular food system, therefore, also affects our consumption pattern. We will discuss strategies to improve the use of leftovers by animals, such as using fungi to improve the digestibility of straw, the use of insects as livestock feed, or a potential to re-introduce animal meal or food-waste as livestock feed. We will also discuss e.g. the important role of animal and human excreta to fertilize crop land or produce bio-energy, the importance of nose-to-tail eating, the potential to improve both animal welfare and the environment, and the value of precision livestock farming. We will discuss socio-economic incentives/changes needed to realize a transition towards a circular food system. Additionally, groups of students will work on a project directed at improving the role of ruminants, pigs or poultry (own choice) in a circular food system. To this end, students will visit innovative farms that are built around the concept of 'circularity'.

Learning outcomes:

After successful completion of this course students are expected to be able to:
- understand different futures of livestock in the food system, and its spatial variability;
- understand the impact of livestock production on the environment;
- explain the complexity of a food system;
- identify the role of livestock in a circular food system (nutritional benefits, environmental benefits/costs; livestock and nutrient recycling etc.);
- understand which strategies can enhance the role of livestock in a circular economy;
- understand what is needed to transform our food system in a circular one;
- apply knowledge about circular food systems to the ruminant, pig or poultry sector.


The course starts with some introductory lectures on possible roles of livestock in future food systems across the world, the impact of livestock on the environment, and the complexity of the food system. During these lectures, we will evaluate and discuss several videos about societal debates about the role of livestock in future food systems (should we become vegan?, How to fulfil future demands?, What does a sustainability plan of Friesland-Campina imply?). Subsequently, we will zoom into the circular food system, and the role livestock can play. We will highlight how innovative nutrition, breeding and housing can contribute to a circular food system. The project to be executed by the students will be inspired by visiting innovative farms, and will use relevant scientific literature. At the end of the course, a report about improving the role of livestock in the circular food systems must be written and presented.


The final grade will be based on the group assignment (30%) and on a written exam (70%).


Study guide, scientific literature and hand-outs of the lectures.

Restricted Optional for: BASAnimal SciencesBScA: Animal Management and Care3WD