Sustainable niche for farmed animals in food systems

Funded by Academy of Finland 2022-2026
Deep leverage points for change

The project challenges the contemporary paradigm of production and consumption of farmed animals as departing from its sustainable niche. Current food systems are clearly unsustainable in terms of planetary boundaries, human health, and animal welfare. The project aims to achieve an integrated, theoretically informed, and temporally explicit understanding of the sustainable niche for farmed animals in food systems and, ultimately, to contribute to a transition to genuine sustainability on the much-contested issue of using animals in food systems.

Scientific objectives i) expand the understanding of the past, current and plausible future normative goals and designs for sustainable farmed animal production and consumption systems through the prism of leverage points for sustainability transition; ii) determine the sustainability potential and performance of the current and alternative production system designs, which optimize resource use at different spatial scales in supplying eco-cultural diets. Societal objectives seek to offer science-based knowledge to support shifts in the normative intents and designs guiding food policies.

In collaboration with leading sustainability researchers, we apply a framework of leverage points to the novel context of food system analysis. Leverage points are places in complex social-ecological systems where targeted interventions can trigger systemic transitions (see Meadows 1999; Abson et al. 2017). One of the leverage points is the goal of food production as supplying eco-culturally sufficient, healthy diets. We focus on interventions at the level of normative system goals and paradigms and explore how these can be applied to advance a sustainable niche for farmed animal production and consumption. Finland is used as a case in current globalised food systems.

The research team will use existing data, generate novel empirical results and use a combination of methods from agricultural, environmental, social and sustainability sciences. Supported by our international collaborators, we will integrate the empirical results into an ambitious interdisciplinary synthesis while engaging stakeholders in the enquiry.



  • University of Helsinki: Dr Irina (Iryna) Herzon – project coordinator, Rachel Mazac, Dr Kari Koppelmäki
  • SYKE: Prof Minna Kaljonen, Dr Annika Lonkila, Jani Salminen, Dr Marjaana Toivonen, Mari Heikkinen and Henri Virkkunen
  • Key international collaborators:
  • Prof David Abson (Leuphana University of Lüneburg, Germany)
  • Assoc Prof Elin Röös (SLU, Sweden)
  • Dr Theresa Tribaldos (Centre for Environment and Development, University of Bern)


Implementation plan

  • WP 1: Identifying leverage points for a sustainable niche of farmed animals in a food system (lead: Annika Lonkila, SYKE; co-lead Irina Herzon, UH)
  • WP 2:  Sustainability performance of current and alternative production system designs (lead Kari Koppelmäki, UH; co-lead Jani Salminen SYKE)
  • WP 3: Eco-culturally sufficient animal food intake in diets (lead Rachel Mazac, UH; co-lead Minna Kaljonen, SYKE)
  • WP 4:  Coordination and impact (lead Irina Herzon, UH)

Be in touch for more information or for master thesis topics


Useful reading

Abson, D. J., Fischer, J., Leventon, J., Newig, J., Schomerus, T., Vilsmaier, U., et al. (2017). Leverage points for sustainability transformation. Ambio, 46(1), 30–39.

Herzon, I. 2020. Saying goodbye to meat and milk? – Towards sustainable utilization of animals in land management. Voices for Sustainability.

Kaljonen, M., Kortetmäki, T., Tribaldos, T. et al. Justice in transitions: widening considerations of justice in dietary transition. Environ. Innov. Soc. Transit, 40, 474-485.

Koppelmäki, K., Helenius, J., & Schulte, R. P. (2021). Nested circularity in food systems: A Nordic case study on connecting biomass, nutrient and energy flows from field scale to continent. Resour Conserv Recycl, 164, 105218.

Mazac, R., & Tuomisto, H. L. (2020). The post-Anthropocene diet: navigating future diets for sustainable food systems. Sustainability, 12(6), 2355.

Meadows, D. (1999). Leverage Points: Places to intervene in a system. In Leverage Points Places to Intervene in a System. Retrieved from