28th February 2022

Milk and meat – how can Luxembourg farmers better protect the environment?

In Luxembourg, temperatures have risen by 1.3 degrees since 1832. According to weather experts, drought and heavy rain will also increase in Luxembourg. Agriculture suffers as a result, but at the same time is partly responsible: 30% of the world’s CO₂ emissions are due to agriculture. Aloyse Marx, President of the “Fräie Lëtzebuerger Baureverband”, tells us in this interview how Luxembourg’s farmers can reduce negative impacts on our climate and gives five practical tips on what to look for when buying milk and meat if you want to reduce your carbon footprint.

1. Mr Marx, the climate debate has given meat and milk consumption a bad image. Is that justifiable?

Every human activity leaves a carbon footprint. And this includes our diet, whether plant or animal based. Speaking on behalf of Luxembourg’s agriculture, I would like to emphasise that agriculture accounts for less than 10% of CO₂ emissions in Luxembourg, so we are fairly well placed by global standards. Around 90% of CO₂ emissions are caused by heat and energy production, construction, mobility, transport and industry in Luxembourg. It’s true that animal food tends to have a higher footprint than plant products. On the other hand, animal products are produced fresh independently of the season, whereas plant foods in our region can only be produced fresh during the growing season, unless they are produced in greenhouses with high energy input. In dairy and meat production, many vegetable by-products of vegetarian food can be used in the rearing of animals, which are not suitable for human consumption without restrictions. Straw from cereal production, rapeseed meal from rapeseed oil production or spent grains from beer production are just a few examples. This animal recycling of vegetarian residues contributes to reducing the footprint of plant-based food. Similarly, animal products can be produced on agricultural land that does not permit plant food production for human consumption due to low soil quality. Animal foods usually have a higher nutrient density than plant foods, i.e. one needs quantitatively less food for the same energy and protein value. Having said that, how large the carbon footprint of food, whether animal or plant-based, is can only be assessed objectively by taking a holistic view of the carbon footprint. This is essentially influenced by the production itself, its processing, its preservation and the transport of the food. For some years now, about 40% of Luxembourg’s milk producers have been calculating the carbon footprint of the milk they produce. These milk producers only produce milk from certified GMO-free feed, i.e. without genetically modified soya from Latin America. As milk producers, they are also involved in the climate protection strategy of their European dairy cooperative ARLA, which aims to reduce its carbon footprint by 30% by 2030 and achieve net zero CO₂ milk production by 2050. This ARLA climate protection strategy is based on the targets of the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi) to comply with the 1.5 degree limit of COP21. Similar efforts are also being made nationally in beef production. The conditions are thus in place to guarantee a climate-friendly balanced diet on a plant and animal basis.

2. Methane production in a cow’s rumen is a natural process. You can’t stop a cow farting. Can digitisation help produce milk and meat in a climate-neutral way?

Thanks to the digital recording of all farm-relevant figures, we already know today that, with an average carbon footprint of about 1.1 kg equivalent per kg of milk, Luxembourg’s agriculture is far below the global average of about 2.4 kg equivalent per kg of milk, including methane emissions from cows. As such, the ARLA climate protection strategy aims to make farmers aware of all the levers available on their farms for producing in a more climate-friendly way. In the context of this calculation of the carbon footprint by external institutions, the quality of the data used as a basis for the calculation is of extreme importance. In calculating the carbon footprint in agriculture, we distinguish between the so-called Big Five, those areas that have the greatest influence on the climate. For most of these five areas, the digital collection of data is a desirable approach. In addition to the data taken from the annual bookkeeping of the farm, thanks to digitisation, data can be permanently collected on a farm and used to control climate-friendly farm management. Example: Feeding of animals. In this area, digitally supported systems offer far-reaching possibilities, e.g. for tracking the recording of feed consumption in order to control the optimisation of climate-impacting parameters in the feeding of animals. Digitisation is also a significant tool in other Big Five areas, namely to prevent nutrient losses in fields and meadows with a view to improving plant growth and health. The production of renewable energy on farms and carbon storage in the soil complete the changes to be made in order to produce animal products in a climate-neutral way.

The annually recorded individual farm data from the ARLA Climate Check, as well as the quarterly data from the Arlagården® programme (animal welfare and environmental parameters), form the basis for providing consumers with the greatest possible transparency in the future with regard to the impact of milk production on the climate and the environment using blockchain technology.

3. What if we increase the prices of milk and meat? Would this lead to reduced consumption and thus fewer emissions?

In a free market economy, the level of food prices is determined by supply and demand. Therefore, in a free market system, prices are not usually set by organisations or political institutions. In principle, however, higher prices in agriculture are the basic prerequisite for improving the climate performance of agriculture. Whether higher agricultural prices ultimately lead to a net increase in the producer’s income depends on the overall context. A permanent increase in the price of energy will result in far-reaching changes in farm calculation and pricing. Cost increases in the energy sector mean higher expenses for feed, fertiliser and fuel. If these costs are not fully covered by the sales price, this will lead to a reduction in the population’s self-sufficiency in agricultural products in the medium term. A shift of parts of food production to other regions of the world with a significantly worse environmental balance per product is the consequence. We are currently experiencing this scenario in pig farming. This should not be the goal in Luxembourg and Europe. In order to avoid such a development, concepts are needed that put the onus on trade and bring the consumer on board.

Therefore, ARLA’s strategy is to establish a qualitative approach in the pricing of dairy products, so that consumers can clearly see the impact of their purchases on the various sustainability areas. The climate and sustainability strategy means that the way milk is produced in connection with animal welfare, climate protection and biodiversity protection could in future be controlled by objective purchasing decisions. The creation of digital supply chains and the implementation of a network-based value creation approach, e.g. via blockchain technology, are being planned. The data provided by milk producers forms the basis for such a project. ARLA is currently participating in a project of the German Ministry of Agriculture to plan the outlines for such an approach.

4. By 2025, 20% of Luxembourg’s agricultural land is to be dedicated to organic farming. However, organic milk and meat are much more expensive.

Can Luxembourg’s organic farming keep up with low prices from abroad?

Luxembourg has some major locational disadvantages in organic production: high labour costs and regionally below-average soil quality. The result of both is that the yields and/or costs of vegetable and cereal production are lower than in foreign favoured regions. For vegetable production, Luxembourg’s topography complicates the essential irrigation, which also pushes up production costs. As in conventional agriculture, organic farming tends to have a higher production potential in the animal sector due to natural conditions. In organic farming, this leads to the need to export animal products. We should therefore be honest enough to admit that a small country like Luxembourg is basically dependent on exports and imports. Defining our greater region as a reference point would be more realistic than focusing on national borders. As in conventional agriculture, the marketing of products in organic agriculture plays a decisive role in achieving higher prices for the consumer.

5. What five practical tips do you have for our readers who want to buy milk and meat without a guilty conscience?

5 tips for buying milk and meat without having a guilty conscience:

1. Around 30% of our food ends up in the bin. Give the climate a break and buy only what you need;

2. Buy milk and meat products produced from certified GMO-free feed, since they protect the climate;

3. Make sure you eat a balanced diet with foods whose carbon footprint has been calculated by independent institutions and which guarantee supply chain transparency;

4. For the necessary shift towards climate-friendly agriculture to succeed, buy food from retailers that have proven to be fair partners between producers and consumers;

5. Together with the agricultural sector, demand that policymakers create the framework to ensure that burdens and returns are fairly distributed in supply chains.

About the blog:


There is an urgent need for rapid transition to global sustainability. Business and industry have enormous social and environmental impacts. "Why does it matter?" is a bi-monthly blog that aims to elucidate this important topic through the eyes of our experts. 

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