Copa-Cogeca, the umbrella bodies for European farmers and agri co-ops, made the claims in the run-up to the United Nations Copenhagen Summit on climate change later this month.
They estimate that emissions from the EU-27 agriculture sector, including livestock, have fallen by as much as 20% over the 1990-2007 period.
This was largely through reforms of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), combined with more efficient use of fertilisers and manures and the progressive use by farmers of agricultural and environmental initiatives.
Copa-Cogeca said in order to further reduce these emissions, substantial investment in agricultural research and development is needed to enable farmers to produce food more efficiently with less environmental impact.
The livestock sector can also make a positive contribution to tackling climate change by delivering valuable nutrients in the form of manure and slurries for soil fertilisation, as well as feedstock for bio-energy production.
Furthermore, it said livestock farming helps prevent a mass exodus of population and boosts employment in rural areas.
Copa Cogeca went on: “With predictions from the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) that world food production needs to be doubled by 2050 in order to meet growing demand, it is essential to maintain livestock production across the EU.
“Extensive livestock farming also provides food production opportunities in regions that otherwise would not be able to produce food as much of our agricultural land is unsuitable for growing arable and vegetable crops.
“Meat provides extremely valuable sources of protein, energy, minerals and vitamins to a consumer’s diet. With higher income levels and a more varied diet, they can live a healthier and longer life.”
Copa president Padraig Walshe, the IFA leader, said agriculture can play a positive role in tackling climate change. A strong CAP is consequently vital in the future to ensure the right tools and incentives are in place so that farmers can play their role in addressing this challenge at the same time as ensuring a competitive agriculture and meeting growing world food demand, he said.