Parliamentary inquiry exposes lack of clarity on measuring environmental impact of livestock

Parliamentary inquiry exposes lack of clarity on measuring environmental impact of livestock

A parliamentary inquiry has revealed that more robust scientific data and a standard model to measure carbon sequestration is needed to help the beef and lamb sector meet the twin challenges of sustainable food production and reducing its environmental impact.

The four-month All Party Parliamentary Group for Beef and Lamb inquiry, which included written and oral evidence sessions from industry and environmental representatives, was coordinated by group chairman Neil Parish MP.

It acknowledged that the beef and lamb sector is working hard to address environmental issues, but much more work is needed to define how the carbon footprint of all agricultural sectors is measured to assess its environmental impact.

Mr Parish said: “Debate on the subject of the industry’s environmental impact often centres around carbon footprint. However, what our inquiry has revealed is that the understanding of what makes up the carbon footprint of grazing livestock is not very deep at all. This is alarming, given the seriousness of issues we face, namely food security and environmental sustainability.

“There is all too often a negative focus on grazing cattle and sheep being blamed for carbon emissions from the agricultural sector, with no account taken of the positive environmental impact they have. For instance, managing the landscape and protecting biodiversity.

“There is also a lack of consensus on how to measure livestock emissions and supranational debate is subsequently not based on comparable data. Variations arising from different production systems can impact on the amount of methane emitted from ruminants. There is no ‘one size fits all’ data set. Sequestration, for example, is included in French carbon footprinting assessments but not in British ones. Subsequently, British producers are at a significant disadvantage when doing a like for like comparison.

“Currently, we are not fully able to quantify the carbon footprint of red meat or the foodstuffs that some would seek to replace meat with. As such, the ‘eat less red meat to save the planet’ message is far too simplistic to be credible at this stage and lacks the scientific grounding to be robust.

“Our report merely scratches the surface of the intricate debate around sustainable food production. Emissions, although important and significant, are part of a much bigger picture. However, until more sufficient scientific data is available and a consistent sequestration model applied internationally, policymakers simply cannot work within a framework needed to respond to the issue of sustainable food production.

“Without solid scientific foundations in place we will not be able to have an informed debate and generate policies to enable the industry to meet its environmental challenges. Hopefully this report will contribute towards stimulating the debate and moving it up the political agenda.”

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