The economy and the roles of livestock production within society have changed much in recent years, and this change is set to continue and intensify. Not only beef supply chains, but also animal research and development on the competitiveness of these chains, must have new strategies and revised objectives to meet the challenges.
Globally, livestock production (and specifically beef production) plays an important role in maintaining food supplies, especially supply of good-quality protein. In addition, the demand for animal products including meat is increasing, notably in developing countries.
In the 27 member states of the European Union, beef production is slowly declining and the trade balance has been negative since 2003. In the future, the level of beef production will be closely linked to dairy sector dynamics, public policies (World Trade Organization and Common Agriculture Policy), and price balance between crops and animal production. The context in which beef is produced has changed considerably. Some issues (e.g., animal welfare, protection of the environment, pasture-based systems) concern not only cattle but also all types of ruminants.
Recent developments in animal genetics and genomics up to metabolomics will help to investigate the regulation of phenotypic variation in livestock, including the variation in sustainability traits such as efficiency of nutrient use, emissions (nitrogen, phosphorus, and greenhouse gas), health, product quality, and most important, robustness.
Research should be targeted at practical issues, for instance the development of predictive approaches for the development of precision livestock farming, which has proven to be efficient at increasing, step by step, the efficiency of production and consequently competitiveness of the beef supply chain.
Focusing on efficiency of nutrition is also an important challenge to limit the use and reduce the cost of using high-quality nutrient resources as animal feed that can also be used for human food, and to reduce potentially harmful emissions such as carbon, methane, or nitrogen. The potential to maximize forage utilization by ruminants requires improving our knowledge of forage intake and digestion. However, there is also an increasing demand to evaluate feeds based on multiple criteria including nutrition, product quality, animal health and welfare, traceability, and sustainability.
Because we are using more and more limited natural systems, we should move toward pasture systems and ecologically intensive systems, forcing us to work on the ecological footprint of animals. At the same time, the consequences of global change on livestock systems should be taken into account within our research.
Better animals, better feed, and better nutrient utilization with more autonomous farming systems would ensure better incomes for farmers while protecting the environment and producing typical products of specific and high quality.