YAS-33406 Role of Livestock in Future Food Systems


Credits 6.00

Teaching methodContact hours
Group work10
Excursion (one day)11
E-learning material0
Course coordinator(s)MSc TA Schop
Lecturer(s)dr. ir. SJ Oosting
prof. dr. ir. IJM de Boer
MSc TA Schop
Examiner(s)dr. ir. SJ Oosting
MSc TA Schop

Language of instruction:


Assumed knowledge on:

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 BAS courses at WU [or HAS Den Bosch].


The role of livestock in future food systems is heavily debated. The livestock sector provides essential nutrients, generates economic benefits, results in improved livelihoods, and provides labour to the worlds growing population. Livestock production, however, also has a severe impact on the environment. Livestock, furthermore, are often fed with products that we, as humans, can also eat, such as cereals, which causes competition for land between feed and food production and threatens future food security. For these reasons, and other reasons, many people argue that we should reduce our consumption of animal-source food (ASF) or that it would be best if we all went vegan. But is that really true? The aim of this course is to discuss the role of livestock in future food systems. During the course we will show different futures about the role of livestock in a sustainable food system, as outlined in the scientific literature, and explore and discuss various arguments underlying these futures. Some argue for example, that to feed an increasing and wealthier population demanding more ASF, we have to produce more ASF with less impact and focus on reducing the environmental footprints of individual ASF products. This route is generally referred to as sustainable intensification and is called the production narrative. Others argue that consuming ASF is resource-intensive and, therefore, should be avoided or limited – also referred to as the consumption narrative. Besides the environmental argument, this narrative also refers to ethical reasons and stresses that the high consumption levels of ASF, especially meat, in the western world are associated with the rise in non-communicable diet-related diseases, such as obesity, heart diseases, and cancer. In the last narrative, the circular narrative, production and consumption are combined. In a circular food system, we use biomass at its highest utility, just like in natural ecosystems. Livestock do play a key role in a circular food system, as they can convert biomass inedible for humans, so-called leftovers, and resources from grasslands, into nutritious ASF. Because mainly leftovers are fed to livestock, feed-food competition is avoided. The amount of ASF 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. To be able to answer the questions ‘whether or not it is best for the environmental if we all become a vegan’ you need to understand all three narratives. Not one of the narratives is right or wrong but yet they do yield different answers and therefore different ‘futures’ of the role of livestock the food system.
During this course we will discuss the current situation of livestock production but more importantly discuss strategies to improve the future role of livestock in a sustainable food system within each narrative. These strategies include the utilisation of leftovers by animals, the use of insects as livestock feed or human food, 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, potential trade-offs and synergies between animal welfare and the environment, and the value of precision livestock farming.

Learning outcomes:

After successful completion of this course students are expected to be able to:
- explain the differences among the three narrative existing in the debate around the role of animal in future food systems, and understand underlying arguments;
- understand how we can reduce the environmental impact of producing animal-source food;
- understand how we can reduce the environmental impact of our diets related to the consumption of animal-source food;
- being able to argue what role animal source food can have in sustainable diets.


The course contains lectures, individual tests in Brightspace, an excursion to Nijsen/Granico and Kipster, and the development of an innovation that should be pitched and defended during a final contest.


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


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

Restricted Optional for: BASAnimal SciencesBScA: Spec. A - Animal Management and Care3WD