The most recent meeting of the Global Meat Alliance (GMA) gave those taking part a first opportunity to reflect on the outcomes of COP 26.
But, perhaps more importantly, the event gave GMA representatives the chance to assess how the various international livestock sectors should prepare for the critically important debates that will take place 12 months from now at COP 27.
The GMA, of which the Livestock and Meat Commission (LMC) is an associate member, brings together various meat industry organisations from around the world to share insights and to agree collaborative projects that have common purpose across the entire gamut of livestock-related interests.
LMC chief executive, Ian Stevenson, attended the recent GMA meeting.
“There is now a strong expectation that livestock production systems will come under very close scrutiny in 12 months’ time at COP 27.
In this regard, there was total unanimity of purpose at the GMA that the meat sectors must put forward the strongest possible case regarding the robustness and sustainability of the production systems that underpin them.
“Farming was not discussed in an upfront and direct manner at COP 26. But we already know that food-production systems will be put centre stage next November in Egypt.”
According to the LMC representative, the beef and lamb industries in Northern Ireland are in a very strong position, when it comes to communicating the key drivers of sustainability that are already apparent within both sectors.
“The sustainability argument, at a very fundamental level, centres on how best use can be made of the soils, crops and other natural resources that can be availed of in a particular region.
“Here in north west Europe, grass is our greatest asset. It is the crop that is best suited to our soils and climate.
In turn, this points to the obvious advantage of developing beef, dairy and lamb-based food industries."
Only ruminant livestock are capable of converting the feeding value contained within grazed grass and grass-based forages into high-quality, dietary protein.”
He also pointed to the significant improvement in efficiency that can be secured by cattle and sheep farmers to further reduce the carbon foot prints of their businesses.
He further explained:
“Finishing cattle as early as possible, calving down heifers at 24 months and making the best use of animal manures are just some of the steps that can be taken by livestock farmers to improve the efficiency of their production systems.
“Other drivers in this regard include a commitment to regular soil testing, maintaining soils at their optimal pH level and using low emission slurry spreading equipment.”
According to Ian Stevenson, food systems must be resilient, both in terms of their ability to improve the environment but also in the way that they deliver food security.
“Land use takes centre stage in this regard. And, in many parts of the world, we will see a commitment to arrest deforestation. And in many regions reforestation policies may well come to the fore.
“In Northern Ireland grass is the crop that best suits our most productive land. Our soil types and climate are, for the most part, not suited to crop production.
All of this must be reflected on carefully as we plan for a future that will see sustainability made a priority.”
The LMC chief executive also pointed to the use of new technologies that are capable of confirming the ability of local soils, grasslands, hedgerows and trees to sequester more than significant quantities of carbon an annual basis.
“LIDAR is one of these technologies,” he said.
“Its use will be critically important in measuring the capacity of our farm hedges, trees and other above ground biomass to sequester and store carbon.
Obviously, it is important for governments around the world to take fully on board the results of new perspectives on carbon that have been identified courtesy of these new and emerging technologies.
“Our response to climate change must be science and evidence driven. Only by taking this approach can the world hope to come up with solutions that are viable and will stand the test of time.”
One of the most far-reaching decisions taken at COP 26 was that of committing the world to reduce global methane emissions by 30% over the next decade.
“Methane gas is produced in significant quantities in the production, distribution and use of coal, oil and natural gas. Decomposing biological materials in landfill also represent a significant source of the gas, as do ruminant livestock.
“And all of these contributing factors must be taken in the round.
"But the good news for the farming industry is the fact that the attainment of improved production efficiency levels will help to drive down methane emission levels from cattle and sheep.”