Knowledge for better food systems

Livestock and protein controversies and uncertainties: perspectives from researchers and civil society

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Debates around sustainable livestock and protein are often highly contentious. This report sets out the results of a project that aimed to identify research questions around livestock and protein that civil society deems to be of particular importance. We conducted a series of interviews with senior representatives of civil society organisations, primarily based in the UK. We followed this with an online workshop where a selection of civil society representatives and academic researchers (from the University of Oxford’s Livestock, Environment and People (LEAP) project) discussed research priorities. Based on both the interviews and workshop we identified five main themes within which civil society and researchers wanted to see more research or better communication of existing research.

Although there was much overlap between civil society and researchers as to which topics need more research, we noted several differences in how civil society and researchers tended to approach uncertainties in debates around sustainable protein. Speaking broadly, researchers wanted to identify specific researchable questions whereas civil society preferred to discuss issues more holistically; for researchers a guiding principle is impartiality whereas civil society often advocates for particular courses of action; researchers also tend to think of research results as providing a sound factual basis for debates, whereas civil society can be more sensitive to how research is likely to be interpreted and used by various audiences. These differences influence the type of questions that researchers and civil society ask and the research that they would like to see performed, and more work may be needed to increase mutual understanding in order for the academic and NGO communities to fully collaborate in identifying research questions that make the greatest contribution to healthy sustainable diets. We set out several suggestions for more productive dialogue between researchers and civil society in the future, including hosting explanatory webinars and reviewing the literature on different dialogue methods.

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