This paper reports the outcomes from an International Workshop on ‘Animal Production in a Changing World’ held in Clermont-Ferrand (INRA-Theix, France) on 9–10 September 2009 in which 35 participants from 15 different countries participated. The main objective was to discuss the main challenges within the livestock sector: its environmental impact and role in global climate change; balancing the need for increased production of animal products coupled with a lower footprint and addressing societal needs in terms of product quality for the consumer. Five key lectures presented the main drivers of animal agriculture: population growth, environmental impact, mitigation and adaptation options, efficiency of production and quality of animal products. The key lectures highlighted the synergies between research needs and strategies dedicated to improving food quality and safety and those devoted to decreasing the environmental impact of ruminant livestock production. After the lectures two discussion groups were set up to discuss the main research priorities in relation to reducing environmental footprint and improving product quality. The main remarks from the group working on product quality were that the existing knowledge is not fully applied, the priorities with regards to quality differ between developing and developed countries and that, as one component in assessing food quality, an environmental index needs to be established taking into account carbon footprint, water and energy use. The discussion within the group working on environmental issues highlighted the importance of focusing on whole life cycle analysis in the mitigation area, while the adaptation strategy should be based on selection for profitable animals under different production systems. In summary, a fundamental shift in designing our production systems is required to help ensure present needs for animal products are met without compromising future generations.