top of page

CASE STUDY: FUTURES OF LIVESTOCK AND LIVESTOCK OF THE FUTURES

Updated: Jun 12

By Wendy Schultz and Tianna Brand



The livestock of the past and present include pigs, cattle, sheep, goats, horses, chicken, ducks, geese, farmed salmon and shrimp, and bees, to name a few. How have past traditions of animal husbandry informed our present care of livestock, of their nurturing, feeding, transporting, and use? What will the patterns of care for livestock look like in our futures? What will be the livestock of our futures? How will the relationships evolve of local cuisines, nutrition, livestock husbandry and veterinary care, and a just and sustainable world? 


As part of the 100th anniversary celebration of the founding of the World Organisation for Animal Health (WOAH), Jigsaw Foresight helped WOAH scan for critical emerging changes, and with participants from the WOAH membership and the International Veterinary Students Association built five challenging, exploratory scenarios for the future of livestock and food animals, and their health and wellbeing.


CHANGES RESOUNDING ACROSS MULTIPLE SYSTEMS

During the first two workshops of the WOAH 100th Anniversary Foresight project, participants reviewed trends and emerging changes collected during a two-month scanning process.  They determined a range of those changes to be “key uncertainties” – potentially very disruptive to food animal health and welfare, but with uncertain outcomes and impacts. These are changes that require contingency planning now in order to anticipate potential impacts and implications, to monitor as they evolve, and to devise adaptive or mitigative actions.  




The project used the Manoa scenario building process: each scenario built requires three different changes, which generate three Futures Wheels (impact cascades), which then interconnect to create a detailed possible future. Fifteen of these key uncertainties were chosen to provide inspiration for five divergent future scenarios of the food chain and food animals [for full descriptions, visit this Miro board].The ‘key uncertainty’ changes chosen were:


Scenario 1. Eco-Revolution Rising

15. Eco-values and farmer livelihoods 

33. Food Inc 

41. Synthetic biology to the rescue? 


Scenario 2. In WOAH We Trust

25. The impact of rising pollution in agriculture27. Transport challenges – too hot to handle?

31. Handling infodemics and mythbusting


Scenario 3. Hangry Games

16. Can AI do everything? 34. New powers in the world

37. Synchronised harvest failure


Scenario 4. Animal Health from the Bottom of the Oceans to the Stars

3. Aquaculture and climate change

6. Farm apps of the future 21. The future of surf and turf


Scenario 5. Farming for Resilience

4. Farming during the polycrisis 11. Hard emotional labour38. Agro-bioterrorism


The combined impact cascades and interconnecting impacts of each set of three changes generated the following scenarios, presented here as short excerpts (contact the authors for the complete narratives).


FIVE STORIES REVERBERATING ACROSS TIME


Eco-Revolution Rising | Food System Disruption

Food system impacts of human-caused climate change came home to roost in the latter half of the 2020’s. Farmers and agri-food companies introduced innovative livestock, poultry, and aquaculture species engineered to better withstand such climactic, biological, and epidemiological catastrophes. 


This marked the start of a new era in food technology, blurring the lines between natural and synthesised sustenance. [But the] introduced animals disrupted ecosystems, causing a decline in biodiversity and destabilizing fragile food systems.


Amid this ecological upheaval, counter-culture movements emerged… Farming, they proclaimed, should stay within the capacities of ecosystems, following natural rhythms…. National governments responded by implementing stringent legislation governing land use, granting legal rights to forests and animals, minimum nutrition quotas for farmed animals (and people!), and gradually phasing out intensive animal production systems. The rise of agro-ecology movements spurred the creation of "edible cities," fostering local, community-based food production and consumption. 


And earlier this year, 2050, there was a significant consolidation in international standard setting within the realm of global food system governance, signifying a shift of paramount importance. These unified standards aim to address the intricate interplay between sustainable agriculture, biodiversity conservation, cultural heritage, and human health, forging a path toward a more harmonious coexistence between technology, nature, and humanity.


In WOAH We Trust | Food System Misinformation

The occurrence of three severe food-related crises in the second half of the 2020s raised alarms all over the world. First, the International Veterinary Forensic Sciences Association released research estimating that antibiotics effectiveness had dropped by 40%. 


Second, because of significant temperature increases, mortality in live animal transport had doubled in many countries. 


Third, well-intentioned efforts at ecosystem restoration like rewilding increased the diversity and incidence of zoonotic diseases. Urban rewilding of old industrial sites coupled with urban agriculture created new forms of food contamination with the unanticipated uptake of toxic chemicals from contaminated soil and groundwater. Food — both animal and plant — suddenly seemed replete with dangers.


International organisations including WOAH worked at the forefront of crisis response, either assessing data, defining problems, or applying solutions. However, by 2030 it became clear that such efforts were not having the desired impact as a deeper problem was becoming ever more present: misinformation. 


WOAH saw the need for smarter communications strategies and contracted an external communications firm to help improve their communication policy. 


As a result, WOAH has earned a lot of “soft power” authority by 2050: the Organisation now takes a persuasive approach to international relations using cultural influences. It increasingly works to transcend its standard-setting role and to act as a conciliator/ mediator on issues focusing on human and animal relations, based on its now trusted status as a reference authority on animal health and welfare issues. 


Hangry Games | Food System Collapse

Coming out of the ‘20s, global politics slowly fragmented. Shifting economic centers created new power blocs vying for influence over global markets and trade.  Border conflicts increased, especially where strategic resources were in play.  


Rising political and economic tensions meant even less global agreement on climate change responses. International organizations like WOAH found themselves emphasizing diplomacy first and standards second. 


We didn’t pay attention in 2035 when separate national, academic, and NGO ecosensor AI arrays in Latin America, the Arctic, Eastern Europe, mid-Africa, the Pacific Ocean, and low earth orbit all warned of rising probabilities of ecosystem tipping points… But experts thought conditions would stabilize. So, the synchronized harvest failure of 2037-2038 caught farmers, distributors, consumers, and world leaders by surprise.


Entire communities were abandoned to the dead and dying, and people moved in search of food, with no attention to borders — border skirmishes became conflicts, and conflicts became wars. Food supply chains were failing all around the world. 


The challenges were extreme — and in the last decade, national leaders, local communities, scientific researchers, entrepreneurs, and global networks have begun to build new systems, transforming old agreements and outmoded infrastructure as well as ways of relating to each other and local ecosystems.  


Animal Health from the Bottom of the Oceans to the Stars | Food System Transformation 

The climate shocks and systemic trade challenges of the late 20’s and early 30’s accelerated society’s transition away from traditionally farm-raised livestock and poultry as our main sources of protein. At first it seemed like lab-grown synthetic meats were the scalable, safe, and therefore mainstream solution. But the mid 30’s scandal of synthmeat contamination resulting in “fast-decay syndrome” and widespread food poisoning shattered consumer confidence in synthmeats. 


Food industry organisations, farmers, ranchers, and entrepreneurs re-evaluated the commercial and ecological viability of alternative food sources, taking a new look at insect protein and multi-species aquaculture. Tagged the “Larvae & Lox Lobby” by the media, businesses in this evolving market sector encouraged people to experiment with recipes using their foods. 


In the early 40’s these technological developments in terrestrial and aqua farming intersected with the growing space industry, leading to increased (public and private) funding from multiple streams. By 2045 the first satellite insect farm was launched, orbiting the earth, providing food for several space colonies and transport hubs. 


Countries and areas of the world that had not previously been major food exporters invested heavily in insect and aquafarming technologies, shifting global food supply, trade, and geo-politics. Food security and economic development stabilised in the 40’s, giving rise to new regional powers among smaller nations and city-states. 



Farming for Resilience | Food System Wellbeing

In the late 2020s, humanity was caught within the intricate labyrinth of the polycrisis—a time where the amalgamation of climate catastrophes, environmental decay, warfare, and social unrest affected all nations but with different impacts. Agriculture, an integral pillar of civilization, bore the brunt of these crises, leading to a seismic shift in farming, animal production, and global food systems.


New approaches to farming evolved to suit diverse locale landscapes and conditions. While certain areas embraced novel breeding techniques, others continued traditional methods, resulting in a divergence in animal health and welfare issues. A wave of cooperative movements arose among small-scale farmers, striving to find localized solutions to the impacts of the polycrisis. 


From the 30’s into the 2040’s farming practices underwent significant evolution in response to climate change. Robot-led farming gained prominence in certain regions of the world, revolutionizing animal farming by increasing efficiency while reducing the workload on human farmers. 


Amidst these advancements, a grim series of multi-species “superbugs” spread like wildfire during the late 40’s, affecting both terrestrial and aquatic animals, wildlife and domesticated animals alike. This heightened a shift towards radically diversified farming, an ‘anti-monocropping’ agenda focused on reviving heritage plants and animals, creating alternative methods to mitigate the potential and real threats of agro-terrorism.


Despite tighter regulations around laboratories handling animal pathogens, biohacking and deliberate manipulation continue to pose threats to animal health and global food security. Our era demands constant vigilance and innovation as humanity navigates the intricate web of challenges reshaping the core of animal health and welfare systems, the balance between progress, and the preservation of the planet's sustenance.


DANCING TO NEW MUSIC, LEARNING NEW STEPS

The changing contexts illustrated by these five stories demand adaptive action. The WOAH workshop participants suggested changes in skills, veterinary education, new collaborations and partnerships, and new regulatory frameworks to ensure the health and wellbeing of the living systems on which humans rely to support their own health and well-being, a selection of which include:


  • Improving skills and veterinary education: Adding critical thinking pedagogy to training programmes; getting new and emerging topics into the curriculum and continuing education in a timely manner, such as AI, data management and analysis, cybersecurity, new food production processes, aquaculture, and insect protein production.


  • Improving trust: Engaging with local food production networks now to build trust for the future; identifying trusted communicators, such as local vets and leading farmers and producers, to translate information and research into meaningful messages for producers; and exposing young children to science, experimentation, and case-based discovery to build trust in science/


  • Adaptive actions for WOAH: Advocating for genetic diversity in animal populations to improve resilience and health; asking behavioural scientists to join the WOAH communications team, enabling “Nudge” techniques; and activating WOAH's enormous network of experts as trusted spokespersons.


These significant changes create new demands on the veterinary and animal husbandry workforce. Interdisciplinary topics such as food production, food security, and human health require multidisciplinary teams. Knowledge and skills beyond the veterinary are required, such as environmental science, AI, cyber-security, robotics, insect and space farming, risk and data analysis, surveillance, and food safety. 


The futures exploration highlighted the need for a systemic OneHealth approach, understanding that the human food chain and all the people who rely on it are interconnected and embedded in the living systems of the planet: care for one is care for all.  


The authors would like to applaud the work of the extended faciliation team: Charles Ebikeme, Peter Humphrey, Trish O’Flynn, Jordi Serra del Piño, James Stevens, and Victoria Ward.


 

Wendy Schultz is Director of Infinite Futures and Co-Founder at Jigsaw Foresight.  She currently teaches futures studies in the Master’s Degree Program in Strategic Foresight at the University of Houston.







Tianna Brand is Foresight Advisor to the World Organization of Animal Health and the project lead on the WOAH 100th Anniversary Foresight Project.


20 views0 comments

Comments


bottom of page