Chicken not so circular, say Dutch researchers – Moderate consumption of cows and pigs is best for nature and climate

The EAT-Lancet diet has become controversial, but has quickly become the global standard of what anyone within the planet’s carrying capacity can eat. Critics say the planetary standardized recommendations would destroy local food cultures, but now, for the first time, the relationship with the circular economy has been examined.

Today 40 percent of the available arable land is used for animal feed. In circular agriculture, animals are fed as much as possible with “low opportunity cost biomass”, ie feed sources that do not compete with food for human consumption. In concrete terms, this concerns residual products from the feed industry such as potato peelings, animal meal or grass.

The researchers calculated three scenarios: one in which the recommendations of the EAT-Lancet committee were followed with an emphasis on whole grains, a second scenario in which mainly refined grains were used and finally a scenario in which the production potential of circular agriculture was explored towards compared to the EAT recommendations.

Pig recycle champion
Chickens in particular – nevertheless renowned for their feed conversion – would be displaced in the circular model. On the basis of whole grains alone, it would not even be possible to produce eggs or broiler chickens. Pigs and cattle, on the other hand, do well in circular agriculture. Cattle do well by converting grass into milk, with the cows being used for meat production at the end of their milking cycle. Pigs, on the other hand, are the best at processing the residual flows. A European circular pig farm can produce 44 grams of pork per capita per day, more than 6 times the recommended amount of the EAT-Lancet diet. For milk, it’s about 529 grams per day, or twice the recommendation.

Together, the cattle and pigs provide a balanced nutrient profile: “Milk contains relatively high amounts of calcium, while beef and pork are a high-quality source of available vitamin B12 and zinc. In other words, each animal has unique capacities to convert residual flows into specific nutrients.”

The effects on land use were also examined. The EAT-Lancet diet requires about 0.22 hectares of arable land per world inhabitant per year. The circular production model for Europe would require 0.12 hectares of arable land and 0.09 hectares of grassland.

This article appeared on VILT earlier this week.