Livestock and Meat Commission (LMC) chief executive, Ian Stevenson has said that the international beef sector is responding to the threat of climate change.

He points to the conclusions of a recent report, prepared by the economics research team at Wageningen University in the Netherlands, as proof of this assertion.

The research was jointly commissioned by the Dairy Working Group and the European Roundtable for Beef Sustainability (ERBS) groupings within the Sustainable Agriculture Initiative (SAI) platform. Stevenson is an ERBS board member.

The SAI Platform is a not-for-profit organisation working to support transformation of the global food and drink industry to source and produce more sustainably.

With over 150 members, from companies and organisations in the global food and drink value chain, SAI Platform provides solutions to common challenges and promotes sustainable agriculture in a precompetitive environment.

SAI Platform’s Dairy Working Group (DWG) represents 30% of the global milk volume. It is a precompetitive platform in which dairy buyers and processors work together to develop sector transformational initiatives.

A key priority according to the group, is that of reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the dairy industry. ERBS is a multi-stakeholder platform, hosted by SAI Platform, focused on European beef sustainability from farm to fork.

ERBS unites and coordinates sustainability programmes around a common agenda to deliver positive impact within the beef value chain.

Beef sector emissions

One of the key outcome areas the ERBS is focused on is the reduction of GHG emissions as part of improving the environmental footprint of farming systems.

Ian Stevenson commented: “The team at Wageningen reviewed all the current scientific literature, which references carbon footprint mitigations options that can impact positively on dairy and livestock production.

“They also surveyed the views of SAI Platform members on this critically important matter.

"Significantly, the majority of businesses and organisations actively contributed to the project.”

According to Stevenson, 28 mitigation measures were referenced in the final Wageningen report.

“Of these mitigation measures currently in use, the top five are worthy of note. It is significant that the measures deemed to be the most effective at the present time all serve to improve the production efficiency at farm levels.

“Of equal significance, is the fact that all of these measures can and are being adopted in the same meaningful way on farms here in Northern Ireland."

Breeding techniques

Coming in at number one within the report is the use of improved animal breeding techniques to improve livestock productivity levels.

"The parallels that can be drawn for Northern Ireland in adopting this approach is obvious," Stevenson said.

The second ranked mitigation measure was that of improving animal efficiency levels. Factors coming into focus here include increases in food conversion rates and reductions in the time required to take animals through from birth to final slaughter.

The third most effective mitigation measure identified by the Wageningen team was that of improving diet composition and ensuring that animals have access to the quality and consistency of feed that they need at all times.

“Improving animal health levels is the fourth ranked mitigation measure,” commented Ian Stevenson.

“And in this context the greater use of vaccines and introducing effective management systems that maximise all animal health criteria are regarded as being critically important."

Improving forage quality comes in at number five on the list of mitigation measures (e.g. through earlier harvesting and improved varieties).

"And, again, the relevance of this approach for farmers in Northern Ireland is immediately obvious," said Stevenson.

The report also looks, in depth, at how improved manure management can be used to drive both efficiency and carbon footprint mitigation on livestock farms.

One of the most important themes within the report is its confirmation that many of these mitigation measures are being actively applied in the beef sector and on livestock farms around the world.

“The Wageningen report reflects the impact of mitigation interventions that are available now," Stevenson explained.

"As the livestock industry looks to the future, the impact of future technologies that aren’t in widespread use currently or, indeed, those that we do not know about yet, will have to be factored-in down the line.”