Healthy livestock are a solution to climate change

26th April 2022

The National Sheep Association (NSA) is welcoming the launch of a new Ruminant Health and Welfare report that highlights how reducing endemic diseases in ruminant livestock can support the slowing of climate change by significantly reducing methane emissions.

The report ‘Acting on methane: Opportunities for the UK cattle and sheep sectors’ provides farmers, vets and animal health advisers with available interventions to boost animal health and welfare on farm that will in turn reduce methane emissions.

This is seen as one of the low hanging mitigation options as there are direct benefits on farm as well as on a national scale through disease reduction and eradication, with little additional cost to the farmer. Alongside the planned introduction of the new Defra Animal Health and Welfare Pathway scheme later this year, NSA believes it is an ideal time for farmers to utilise the available funding as well as the guidance in reports such as this to boost animal health and welfare on farm. 

NSA has welcomed the evidence that improved health management will lead to numerous benefits alongside reducing methane emissions, helping to achieve the Global Methane Pledge formed at COP26 to reduce methane emissions by 30% by 2030. However, the Association is warning of the potential dangers of discussing methane emissions in isolation rather than on a whole farm basis.

NSA Chief Executive Phil Stocker comments: “It’s important to look at methane and emissions – but we have to see this within a bigger picture of Global Warming Potential and full/whole carbon life cycle measurements, and also within wider sustainability assessments to include nature recovery/biodiversity, natural capital protection, animal welfare, production, social etc.

“You can’t deny that reducing days to slaughter will reduce methane emissions, but this needs to be within the context of driving efficiency generally through good health and good nutrition etc rather than any industry/policy direction as this will affect markets and trade as well as having wider consequences overfeeding and pasture management, that could, in turn, have wider carbon or nature implications.”

Despite the positives, NSA is cautious and warns policymakers that current methods of measuring and reporting greenhouse gas emissions, alongside blunt solutions like reducing livestock numbers not only paints the agricultural sector in a bad light but ignores the real-time scientific research in favour of more appropriate solutions that safeguard farmers livelihoods and lifestyles as well as supporting production, the landscape and the environment.

Mr Stocker concludes: “There can be no one blueprint for the sheep industry on these sort of issues – it’s a matter of getting farmers aware of, and ‘owning’ the environmental challenges, and giving them the options as to potential solutions.”