Europe has forgotten its appreciation of livestock because it hasn’t suffered from serious food shortages in a very long time, the director-general of the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) has stated.

Dr Qu Dongyu made the remarks when asked for his view on ways to respond to “negative perceptions” of agriculture and food production in terms of environmental impact during a visit to the School of Agriculture and Food Science at University College Dublin (UCD) last week.

“Why are livestock accused? Because you haven’t suffered from food shortages since a long time ago,” he said.

“Even during World War II, in general in Europe, even in Britain and Germany during the war, you had some level of food shortage and starvation but compared to Asia, compared to the Middle East, compared to Africa, it’s nothing. So you have lost your historic memory.

“You need to have that personal experience. I grew up on a small family farm, less than one hectare, with eight people – five kids, grandma, parents – we suffered.

Too much

“In Europe you eat too much meat, you drink too much milk, but 80% of the population in the world still have no milk every day, no meat, no affordability, no accessibility.

“Even in New York, 10% don’t have affordability for meat and milk.

“So that is why Europe has started to blame livestock, and put a lot of pressure on livestock for greenhouse gas emissions and so forth.

“Yes, it is a problem and to solve that problem we need to build a circular agri-food system from sustainable livestock, less emissions from new breeding stock, and new animal feed from crops.

“We need to provide more with less and we need innovation and technology. We have a lot of solutions.”


The FAO leader – who studied horticultural science at China’s Hunan Agricultural University, plant breeding and genetics at the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences, and environmental science through his PhD at Wageningen University in the Netherlands – also challenged the EU’s restrictive rules on genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

“After 30 years you still don’t accept GMO, but every day I know for sure, even here in Ireland, you are eating GMO products because you buy cookies that are manufactured in the United States, Brazil, Argentina, where it is GMO. So why are you against GMO? I really don’t know.”

He urged agricultural scientists to continue to engage with politicians and policymakers who may be less familiar with farming and food production practices.

“Any politician no matter their background should be in dialogue with farmers, the agribusiness people, and scientists and professors to know how to support concrete actions for farmers, that’s how we create a coherent action,” he said.

UCD president professor Orla Feely, professor Frank Monahan dean of agriculture and head of the school of agriculture and food science, and associate professor Monica Gorman also of the School of Agriculture and Food Science welcomed Dr Qu Dongyu to the Belfield campus where he visited UCD Rosemount Environmental Research Station and took part in a lively discussion with leading researchers and academics.

The event coincided with the FAO DG’s visit to Áras an Uachtaráin to present President Micheal D Higgins with the prestigious UN Agricola Medal in recognition of his work in advancing global food security and global agri-food systems.