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Breeding could help cattle become more environmentally friendly, scientists say

Animals that grow faster and eat less would have a lower carbon hoofprint.

Highland cattle at the National Trust’s Wicken Fen Nature Reserve in Cambridgeshire (Joe Giddens/PA)
Highland cattle at the National Trust’s Wicken Fen Nature Reserve in Cambridgeshire (Joe Giddens/PA)

By Joe Gammie, PA

Farmers could be breeding more environmentally-friendly cattle by next year to reduce the sector’s carbon footprint, scientists have said.

Farming experts said that the livestock industry will reduce its carbon emission by breeding cattle that grow faster but eat less so that their environmental impact is lower.

Scientists claimed that this could cut methane emissions from cattle by up to a third if farmers used the most environmentally-friendly animal breeds.

This could also lead to shoppers in the next few years being able to check the label of their food to discover the environmental impact it has had, they added.

Professor Mike Coffey, Professor of Livestock Informatics at Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC), said researchers had been studying which breeds of beef cattle eat less food for the same growth.

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Cows lay down in a field next to Howarden Airport, North Wales (Peter Byrne/PA)

He said that the difference in methane emissions from best and worst cattle was about 30% and that if all UK farmers used the most efficient animals this could reduce carbon emissions by nearly a third.

Speaking after a Science Media Centre briefing he added: “Farmers are saying we are prepared to reduce our share (of green house gas emissions).

“We will lead on that by producing cows that produce less methane, cows that grow faster and eat less feed.

“There’s a huge prize available, the difference between the best and worst animals in cattle feed efficiency is about 30%.

“So if every farmer in the country used the best animals we could save about 30% of emissions in cattle.”

Prof Coffey said by next year farmers will able to select bulls for breeding that will father dairy cows that consume less feed for the amount of milk they produce.

But Prof Coffey said the next stage will be trying to measure the methane given off by different breeds of cattle to find which are the lowest emitters.

He added: “By next year farmers will be able to select bulls whose daughters consume less feed for the amount of milk they produce.

“Where we go next is can we actually measure methane emissions from groups of animals.”

Prof Coffey said that soon shoppers could be able to check meat labels to find out how much environmental impact their food has had.

He added: “My expectation is that at some point in the near future there will be product labels that relates to the efficiency or carbon impact of the food.”

But Prof Coffey said governments cannot legislate for consumer choices and make everyone go vegan.

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Vegan food (Isabel Infantes/PA)

He said while some people will go vegan or vegetarian others will want to buy food that had a lesser environmental impact.

But the panel warned that everyone going vegan would not solve the environmental problems in the farming sector.

Professor Geoff Simm, from the University of Edinburgh, said that the meat sector was being “demonised” and that going vegan would not minimise land use.

Professor Andrea Wilson, also of Edinburgh University, said more research was needed into the impact of veganism.

She added: “We know a lot about the livestock sector because people have looked at it.

“We actually know very little about the vegan sector.

“The danger is we demonise one and jump too quickly to the other.”

PA

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