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Report on the ruminant livestock industry and net zero targets in the UK and Ireland

In this report, published by EIT Food North-West in collaboration with Innovate UK KTN, we explore how the ruminant livestock industry in the UK and Ireland can achieve net zero targets.

13 Mar 2023
EIT Food West

Why does the livestock industry need to transition to net zero?

Globally, there are targets to achieve Net Zero emissions by 2050 and to limit global warming to 1.5° Celsius. Agriculture accounts for 14% of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Livestock farming contributes to GHG emissions, because animals such as cattle and sheep release large quantities of methane, carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide into the atmosphere.

UK agriculture is the source of 10% of total GHG emissions whilst in Ireland, this sector is responsible for 37.5% of GHG emissions, including methane emissions produced from the natural digestive processes associated with ruminant livestock and the decomposition of manure, and nitrous oxide from fertiliser.

Not only that, in the UK and Ireland, extreme weather events associated with global climate change pose a substantial risk to farmers and food security as well as threatening potential environmental, societal, and economical benefits.

As a result, the ruminant livestock industry could help to reduce its negative impact on the environment by adopting practices to help to transition to net zero ambitions.

In this report published by EIT Food North-West and in collaboration with Innovate UK KTN, we explore how the ruminant livestock sector in the UK and Ireland can achieve Net Zero by 2050, exploring 6 key recommendations gathered at a previous EIT Food North-West workshop from experts and stakeholders from the livestock and agrifood industries and academia, as well as governmental and non-governmental organisations, supported by further evidence and research.

We would like to thank Innovate UK KTN for supporting us with this report.

Our recommendations

Our report identified the following recommendations for the livestock industry:

  • An urgent need for an internationally agreed and standardised measurement system to monitor GHGs from the livestock industry so that changes or interventions can be monitored and verified over time.
  • Introducing policies that reward farmers to support the transition to net zero. Farmers should have an opportunity to input into new policies or strategies to ensure they are fair and achievable.
  • Promoting land management strategies. This includes transitioning to agroecological or regenerative agriculture practices that can enrich soils and increase biodiversity.
  • Expanding the number of demonstrator farms to enable research, knowledge transfer and training around new technologies to accelerate the transition to net zero.
  • Optimising the efficiency and productivity of livestock, which could include revising the age of ruminant livestock slaughter.
  • Creating a holistic response to carbon sequestration to ensure higher yields from high-quality soil that absorbs carbon from the atmosphere.

The priority areas need further exploration. However, they act as a starting point for farmers, investors and policymakers to take meaningful action that will support the ruminant livestock industry to achieve net zero targets.

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