The health and welfare of animals is "imperative" for tackling climate change and meeting sustainable development goals, the chief scientific adviser for the Scottish government has warned.

Professor Julie Fitzpatrick, who is also the scientific director of the Moredun Research Institute in Scotland, told an audience in Belfast that healthier animals are more productive and also contribute to lower greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

According to Prof. Fitzpatrick, sheep with worms had 10% higher emissions than healthy sheep, while cattle with Johne’s disease emitted 25% more GHGs per litre of milk and 40% more per kg of beef than disease-free cattle. 

Livestock science

Prof. Fitzpatrick, who delivered the 2023 George Scott Robertson Memorial Lecture at Queen’s University Belfast, said this underlined why "livestock science matters" not just in relation to the health and welfare of animals but because of the "grand challenges" that agriculture now faces.

She said that livestock science had a fundamental role to play when it came to climate change, biodiversity, reducing antimicrobial resistance, human health and sustainable, safe-food systems.

Prof. Fitzpatrick, who also holds a chair in food security at the University of Glasgow, highlighted to her audience in Belfast that under a 'One Health' umbrella there were many "synergies" between farmers, vets, science researchers and policymakers.

She said knowledge exchange was vital and was the "springboard" for the appliance of science.

Prof. Fitzgerald highlighted a sheep-scab awareness and prevention programme, which she helped pioneer, and which now operates across 100 farms across Northern Ireland as an example of how a good marriage between science and farmers can pay dividends for everyone.

Welfare of animals

According to David Brown, president of the Ulster Farmers' Union (UFU), the welfare of animals is a crucial concern for farmers.

"Only 6% of farms in Northern Ireland do not keep cattle and sheep; for every other farm business, livestock is at its core.

"Animal welfare is critical to farm productivity therefore working with industry to put solutions on the table is key to ensuring a sustainable agriculture industry in Northern Ireland while also protecting local food security," Brown added.