Plenary session: the dairy footprint

The dairy footprint is too high. Jason Clay, senior vice president for food markets at the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) answers a clear “Yes” on this statement.

Jason Clay: increase productivity and efficiency

His starting point is the main challenge facing us: to produce enough food for more than 9 billion people by 2050, when everyone on the planet will have 2.9 times the income per capita of today and double the consumption levels. This means we need to intensify food production and produce more with less: less land, water and other resources (in absolute terms) than we do today. According to Clay, we need to increase productivity and efficiency on the one hand while reducing food waste, food loss and shifting consumption patterns on the other. In his view, no single strategy will solve the problem alone, but by combining them we can achieve the results both we and the planet desperately need. This has become a matter of considerable urgency, as Clay wrote earlier in his blog. If it wants to maintain its license to operate, the world’s dairy industry should act now to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. “Freeze the footprint of food; Food security is national security; and global trade is key.”

Theun Vellinga: professional production

In his short reply, Theun Vellinga, senior researcher of livestock production systems at Wageningen University & Research, agreed with Clay. However, according to Vellinga, the problem in the future will be the growth of consumption that will occur especially in developing countries. The production in these countries is in the hands of small holders, which is much less efficient than the production systems being used in developed countries. More production will thus lead to an increase in emissions. In order to be efficient: increasing production, reducing the footprint and use land sparingly, the focus needs to be on professional production, here and also elsewhere.

Reactions from the audience:

  • Brazzale Piercristiano: “Open your mind! We all have solutions to reduce the dairy footprint and increase production! Wake up! Ecologically and economically!”

Reaction from Jason Clay: “We are not going to make it to 2050 without even more innovation. We have to let producers compete with better ideas. We don’t need one solution, we need lots of solutions!”

  • Yigitbasi Idil: “Jobs are important for the people living in a country. So it’s important to develop. Global trade is not the solution.”

Theun Vellinga reacts: “The footprint of smallholders is very high. If we professionalize we must definitely not implement that from outside. It must be done with the people there who can make a living from it.
Jason disagrees. “You need to worry about the impacts no matter where they come from. It is never acceptable to have unacceptable consequences.”

  • Roger Cady: “What about all the idle cattle in the world and where they are located & the resources they use without entering the food chain?”

Theun Vellinga: “You can define idle cattle in different ways. The dairy sector is also a meat producer. And a lot of parts of the cow can also be used in non-food sectors.”
Clay adds that to make cows more efficient in the dairy industry, a solution could be to start calving earlier. That way they have a longer period in which they can deliver milk.

Theun Vellinga: “There is no conflict between being sustainable and being profitable at the same time. We need to be efficient, because that is cost effective. Sustainability pays off in both the long term and the short term.”

Jason Clay: “There has been a lot of on-farm improvement however, too many farmers are producing too many things. It is the first time in human history that we need to find the solution on a global level. We need to look what the impact is on the whole planet. That is the real challenge, we have never faced this before.”