November 17, 2021


Unfair for UK beef, dairy farmers to be blamed for climate change, says cattle veterinary association


UK beef and dairy farmers must not be singled out and unfairly blamed for climate change as they are leading the way towards a sustainable future, the British Cattle Veterinary Association (BCVA) said.


As the two-week COP26 climate summit in Glasgow ended on November 12, BCVA said it broadly welcomed the global pledge by more than 100 countries to curb emissions by 30% by 2030 that emerged as one of the first agreements.


According to researchers at Our World in Data, agriculture, forestry and land use accounts for 18.4% of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.


Roughly 5.8% of this figure of 18.4% is attributed to livestock and manure, including methane produced as a by-product through a process called enteric fermentation when microbes in their digestive systems break down food.


The latest official Defra government data for 2019 shows that UK agriculture is responsible for around 10% of UK GHG emissions – and just 6% if only considering livestock farming.


By contrast, transport (27%) was the largest emitting sector, followed by energy supply (21%), business (17%) and residential (15%).


Despite this, BCVA said "inevitable commentary" in the media over the past fortnight has placed a "disproportionate emphasis" on agriculture's role in global warming – especially when UK farming is leading the sustainability charge, including the NFU's ambitious goal to reach net zero across England and Wales by 2040.


By contrast, just 100 companies have been identified as the source of more than 70% of the world's GHG emissions since 1988 – and there isn't a farm among them, BCVA noted.


The association said biogenic methane, the kind produced by cattle, is not the same as methane produced by fossil fuels. This is because a cow’s natural carbon cycle sees methane broken down after 10 years into carbon dioxide, which is in turn recycled via photosynthesis and rumination.


BCVA said it was also crucial to note that UK beef production is among the most sustainable and highest standard in the world – and emissions from British beef are 52% lower than the global average.


Additionally, the government must not damage the high standards of the UK farming industry by outsourcing its environmental footprint via imports produced to lower standards. High-welfare food production and food security "should remain the goal".


BCVA president Elizabeth Berry said: "We all share a commitment to meeting welfare standards, safeguarding public health and creating an environment that meets our needs today without compromising the ability of future generations to thrive."


- Farmers Weekly