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Inquiry Calls For Clearer Data on Livestock Impact

21 May 2013

UK - More robust scientific data and a standard for measuring carbon sequestration are required if the beef and lamb sector is to meet the twin challenges of sustainable food production and reducing environmental impact, a parliamentary inquiry has revealed.

The four-month All Party Parliamentary Group for Beef and Lamb inquiry, which included written and oral evidence sessions from industry and environmental representatives, was coordinated by group chairman Neil Parish MP (Con, Tiverton & Honiton).

It acknowledged that the beef and lamb sector is working hard to address environmental issues, but much more work is needed to define how the carbon footprint of all agricultural sectors is measured to assess its environmental impact.

Mr Parish said: “Debate on the subject of the industry’s environmental impact often centres around carbon footprint. However, what our inquiry has revealed is that the understanding of what makes up the carbon footprint of grazing livestock is not very deep at all. This is alarming, given the seriousness of issues we face, namely food security and environmental sustainability."

“There is all too often a negative focus on grazing cattle and sheep being blamed for carbon emissions from the agricultural sector, with no account taken of the positive environmental impact they have. For instance, managing the landscape and protecting biodiversity."

Mr Parish also mentioned the lack of consensus on measuring livestock emissions because supranational debate is currently not based on any comparable data.

Another variation to consider was the variations arising from different production systems.

"There is no ‘one size fits all’ data set. Sequestration, for example, is included in French carbon footprinting assessments but not in British ones. Subsequently, British producers are at a significant disadvantage when doing a like for like comparison," added Mr Parish.

Undue criticism is received because of the focus placed on animal emissions, said Nick Allen, EBLEX sector director.

“Our rain fed-pasture system means we have one of the most efficient livestock production systems in the world," said Mr Allen. "Yet grazing cattle and sheep comes in for undue negative criticism with the focus fixed firmly on emissions from animals. Conversely, they do actually have a positive impact on the environment, not least landscape management and indeed utilising land that cannot be used for arable crops."

Mr Allen added that the 'eat less red meat to save the planet' lacks the scientific robustness to be credible.

The aim of the report is to contribute to the climate change debate and get the environmental challenges of farming up the political agenda.

TheCattleSite News Desk

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