Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Sheep ‘wrongly blamed’ for climate change

July 2, 2019 by  
Filed under Livestock

Industry leaders have hit back after two reports appeared to suggest that sheep production and red meat consumption are contributors to climate change.

National Sheep Association chief executive Phil Stocker said he was concerned that the reports – by the UK Committee for Climate Change and the United Nations – showed little understanding about the UK sheep sector in their criticisms of red meat production.

Both reports suggested big reductions in red meat consumption are needed to help mitigate climate change. It came as the government announced plans to cut net carbon dioxide emissions to zero by 2050.

But Mr Stocker said: “It is really frustrating to yet again see our extensive livestock sectors caught up within criticisms of agriculture and their impact on climate change and biodiversity, and little mention of other damaging activities, that may be less popular to criticise.”

Mr Stocker added: “It is seemingly okay to offset emissions from flying around the world through carbon sequestering actions such as tree planting and peatland management, but not okay for a farm to do its own internal offsetting.”

Yet again, livestock farming appeared to be an easy target while the reality was that farming methods in the UK contributed positively to the environment – and could do even more with the right incentives.

Critics had ignored the role of grazed grassland, rotational and permanent leys in building soil organic matter, soil biology and storing carbon, said Mr Stocker.The reports had focused on global systems rather than the recognising that UK production methods were different.

Mr Stocker said: UK sheep and beef systems are predominantly grass based and grazed, and operate in harmony with wildlife, rather than a feedlot style production that is based on crop production, feed processing and transport.”

While not ignoring methane, Mr Stocker said it could easily be argued argue that sheep farming in the UK helped to combat climate change. It absorbed and stored carbon, reduced the risk of wildfires, and enhanced soil conditions, he said.

It could be argued that reducing livestock numbers would have a cooling effect over time, acknowledged Mr Stocker. But livestock provided a range of other benefits – including building soil fertility, biodiversity and a landscape that people could enjoy.

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