Theme Role of animal production in society

Despite the significant societal contribution of Flemish cattle farming and fisheries, the sector is sometimes subject to societal criticism. ILVO is committed to use dialogue and research to enable discussions around the possible position and future modalities of cattle farming and fisheries in Flanders and to study them.


Research is the guide for practice

The environmental impact of animal husbandry has become undoubtedly larger due to intensification of food production. This can be translated into local problems such as the ammonia problem, nitrification and eutrophication of the ground water - but also in problems with global consequences, such as climate change, deforestation and the problem of antibiotic resistance.

Through a systems approach based on technological expertise and a thorough understanding of all aspects, ILVO’s research helps the sector to choose the correct direction to follow in these societal issues. But also solid fundamental knowledge and expertise are important to support systems thinking. Therefore, insights into the physiological processes, the production processes, the outfitting of animal housing, and the management systems are all essential.

Use of biomass and plant waste streams

Our research in the animal sector also focuses on more efficient use of biomass and the use of plant waste streams in animal feed. We therefore take into account the general competition for carbon and nitrogen sources – Feed, Food, Fuel, Fiber – and circularity. To answer the growing criticism about importing from overseas, we work on possibilities for alternative local and regional protein sources.

Feed evaluation and performance research play an essential role in making sustainable choices about the incorporation of alternative feed materials, waste and side streams and additives in animal feed, with minimal competition with directly edible human foods. We always start from a holistic vision on nutrient flows, animal health and sustainable animal production. Also genetics, animal welfare, stress, emissions, taste, identity, profitability, and water consumption are focus points in this line of research.

Healthy animals

The intensity of our animal production systems makes high demands on the animals. By improving both management and production systems, diseases and metabolic disorders can be minimized and animal welfare can be given the attention it deserves. Another goal is to minimize the use of antibiotics, which ILVO studies by performing health research from an integrated point of view. Animal health and welfare are directly linked with the food safety of meat-based products. We map all the factors from throughout the supply chain that influence animal health, e.g., feed, housing, management, genetics, transport, slaughtering, etc. in order to optimize them in a later stage of research.

Chronic stress

By accumulating knowledge about acute and chronic stress in animals and the validated determination of stress through analysis of feathers, hair or scales, ILVO has created an extraordinary scientific niche. Chronic stress can have harmful consequences for observable parameters such as growth, reproduction, immunological defenses and the animal’s general body condition. ILVO is studying fundamental questions while also establishing practical applications in aquaculture, for example. By monitoring long term stress, producers can improve the welfare and the performance of their animals.

Heritage breeds

Can the genetics of historic or ‘heritage breeds’ incorporate more robustness, higher longevity and other desired sustainable parameters into existing genetics? This could be a way to improve the health of the animals within specific production systems. Mainly by setting up new alternative production systems to develop niche markets, heritage breeds can incorporate interesting characteristics. ILVO is committed to this genetic research.

Gut microbiome

We are also working on deepening our understanding of the relation between the microbiome (that is, all the micro-organisms in the body of an animal), metabolism, and the health of the host. In this way, we want to gain a better understanding of the factors that influence the development of the microbiome during early life, as well as the stability of the microbiome during adult life. This knowledge is essential when striving for optimal health and efficient production of animal products.

Animal welfare

The sensitivity of society around the welfare of animals in production systems is growing. Expertise in animal welfare and behavior forms the base of this line of research, in which we strive for:

  • Better scientific support for the concept ‘animal welfare’ by developing and integrating new welfare indicators, for example regarding chronic stress;
  • Developing protocols that make on-farm determination (and by extension, throughout the entire supply chain) of animal welfare possible, to support specifications (e.g., at the request of the retail sector).

On a practical level, ILVO can help with the search for solutions to problems in animal husbandry, where certain aspects are under societal pressure. Think of foot pad lesions in broilers, castrations and tail docking in slaughter pigs, maternity cages in sows, separation between calf and cow, and so on.

Contact an expert

Sam De Campeneere

Sam De Campeneere

Scientific director, ILVO Animal Sciences


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