EcoLamb - Holistic production to reduce the ecological footprint of meat

Aim of the project:

To assess the sustainability of diverse European sheep production systems, focusing on ecological footprint, animal welfare aspects and nutrition value of lamb meat.

Introduction

Our goal is to prove a direct linkage between animal welfare, meat quality and farm typology. This will be determined using innovative Precision Farming (PF) techniques, ecological assessment of production systems in varying bioregions and multitude of quality testing procedures. Following this process the consortium will then take the end result, which they will have identified as “ecologically sound and nutritionally superior lamb meat” and after branding it, will market the product throughout Europe. The multi-disciplinary consortium will engage and include actors from the EU-sheep sector into the product supply chain to promote the state-of-the-art healthier meat product brand. The anticipated distinctiveness and accomplishment of the product will encourage greater inclusion by farmers to produce the same type of lamb in the same manner.

What: The multidisciplinary approach and multi-actor involvement of the EU sheep sector will assist in re-designing critical aspects to increase societal acceptance and the place of lamb meat in future diets. The outcomes of the project will be used by stakeholders to promote changes in farm management, marketing and processing of meat from sheep. Additionally, results will be used by farm consultants, farmer groups and policy officers to reform consulting approaches and plan new initiatives to make all aspects of the European sheep industry more sustainable.

Why: In order to enhance the profitability and competitiveness of the European sheep production sector, its capacity to sustain future challenges of climate change, resource use, food security and socially acceptable food production needs to be assessed.

Where: The research is been done in six academic centres in Germany, Italy, Portugal, Slovenia, Spain and Turkey

Main project activities:

This project will assess the sustainability of diverse European sheep production systems focusing on ecological footprint, animal welfare aspects and nutrition value of lamb meat. By engaging trans-national research and industry stakeholders we analysed resource-efficient, competitive and low-carbon lamb production models on numerous case study farms.

Interim research findings:

Animal Welfare: For the acute stress measurement we used  eartag sensors, as well as via observations AND  recordings of the animals’ behavior. The sensors have not yet provided reliable results, we now testing alternatives. From a behavioral aspect; extensively reared lambs scored higher in descriptors whereas intensively reared lambs showed higher values in descriptors such as agitated and fearful but also in other as active, sociable, vigorous, subdued, calm, inquisitive and assertive. Semi-intensively reared lambs scored in between.

All the animals ruminated to some extent, the quality of the fleece was always acceptable and no stereotypes were recorded. Ass for Chronic stress, this is being assessed by analysing cortisol levels in the lambs hair or the wool again from birth to slaughter. Cortisol levels reveals whether the production system itself is responsible for elevated stress levels. By linking these data to meat quality we will determent whether stress experienced by the animal affects the quality of the meat.

Conservation: Results showed the complex and varied communities associated to the diverse sheep systems and valorise the role of the extensive, mountain and natural pastures for the conservation of biodiversity in sheep grazed areas. Legumes proliferated in pastures with higher plant richness and number of flowers, and the preservation of these conditions is linked to more sustainable systems in terms of both animal production and environmental conservation.

LCA analysis: We compared the ecological footprint of both production systems using Life Cycle and Biodiversity Assessment. This provided insights into any possible competition for food production between livestock fodder and feed production. Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) was performed on cropland versus grassland out to calculate the overall impact on the ecosystem. We are still tabulating the results. After the assessments are complete we will be able to evaluate the sustainability of the sheep management systems under different scenarios of grazing pressure, environmental conditions and types of pastures. Ultimately we will  provide landscape-scale assessments on effective resources use. Which can be translated in  strategic bioregional recommendations. Such targeted advice will help sheep farming communities to improve their rural livelihoods.

Meat Safety and Quality: The lamb meat tested so far has gıven results for Atherogenic (IA) and Thrombogenic (IT) indices, which are the global dietetic quality indicators of lipids and their potential impact on the development of coronary heart disease. The study so far has shown:

  • Satisfactory microbiological quality at the end of shelf life, however there was a statistically significant difference in Total Viable Count, Lactic Acid Bacteria and Psychotropic Plate Count between extensively reared and intensively reared lambs in Italy.
  • Significant difference in meat quality both in nutrition value (Total Fatty Acids) and Sensory qualities were seen between the two production systems in Spain.
  • Significant difference in both average daily weight gain, meat nutritional value and shelf life was seen between sheep breeds used for lamb production in Portugal.

 

Project consortium:

Coordinated by: Dr. Mario Barrata - Dept. Veterinary Science University of Turin (Italy)

  • GERMANY: Institute of Stuttgart
  • PORTUGAL: Mountain Research Centre
  • SLOVENIA: Univerza V Novi Gorici
  • SPAIN: Meat Technology Centre of Galicia, Servicio Regional de Investigación y Desarrollo Agroalimentario and Instituto Tecnológico Agrario de Castilla y Léon
  • TURKEY: RR Research and Development

Funded by: TUBITAL, BMEL, MIPAAF, FCT, MKGP, INIA, Servicio Regional de Ivestigación y Desarrollo Agroalimentario and Instituto Tecnológica Agrario de Castilla y Léon  as part of the ERA-NET Cofund SusAn through a virtual common pot model including EU Top-Up funding from the European Union´s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme (grant agreement no 696231)

More information: 

  • The Ecolamb project started on 1 September 2017 and runs until 31 August 2020. 
  • Website: www.ecolamb.eu

Presentations and posters

Research articles: 

Further reading & related publications:

Upcoming special issues edited in:

  • Sustainable lamb meat production for Europe, Booklet edited by the Ecolamb consortium.  In print August 2020
  • Frontiers in Veterinary Science: One Health: The Parameters of an Eco-Sustainable Farm (deadline August 2020)
  • Small Ruminat Research: “Lamb production in Europe” (December 2020)