Best practice could slash livestock GHG emissions, says report

Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from the livestock sector could see a 30% reduction with the use of the right practices and technologies, according to a new study.

The research, published by the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), aims to outline how the problem of emissions can be curbed as livestock account for 14.5% of GHG emissions caused by humans.

It states that the main sources of emissions are feed production and processing, outputs of GHG during digestion by cows, and manure decomposition.

This can be improved through using the best practices and technologies when it comes to feed, health and husbandry, manure management, greater use of biogas generators and energy-saving devices.

The report – Tackling climate change throughout livestock: A global assessment of emissions and mitigation opportunities – is claimed to be the most comprehensive estimate made on livestock’s contribution to global warming so far. It claims GHG emissions associated with livestock supply chains add up to 7.1 gigatonnes of CO2 equivalent each year.

Eblex communications manager James Wilde explained that the revision of the GHG figure is welcomed. He said: “The previous figure of 18% was debunked some years ago, but has continued to be quoted. We hope organisations that have continued to use this will now revise their messaging.

“Our own look at the efficiency trend of the industry in this country showed that we are heading in a positive direction, reducing on-farm GHG emissions through improved efficiency by 17.9% for beef in the 10 years between 2000 and 2010, and 9.3% for sheep over the same period. This does not mean, though, that we should not continue to improve our performance.”

FAO assistant director-general for agriculture and consumer protection Ren Wang emphasised the urgency of starting these reductions now.

“These new findings show that the potential to improve the sector’s environmental performance is significant – and that realising that potential is indeed do-able. These efficiency gains can be achieved by improving practices, and don’t necessitate changing production systems. But we need political will, better policies and, most importantly, joint action,” he said.

The report also explained that the measures could boost production, which would provide more food and higher incomes.

Wilde added that Eblex had been supporting the reductions for years through roadmap work such as practical, on-farm measurements that can both benefit environment and financial returns.

Criticising the study, Friends of the Earth food campaigner Vicki Hird said the report highlighted the urgency of the problem, but that “moving to industrial-style livestock farming systems that guzzle water and eat up land are not the solution”. She said: “This would have a major impact on small-scale producers and the wider environment.”

Corporate stewardship manager at WWF-UK Duncan Williamson said there was a huge opportunity to cut GHG emissions from the livestock sector. “We also have to remember that livestock’s impact is about more than greenhouse gas emissions. Around 30% of global biodiversity loss can be attributed to livestock production, such as the spread of pasture land or turning over forests and savannahs, like the Amazon and Cerrado in Brazil, to feed production. This needs to be halted as soon as possible,” he added.


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