Number of animals ‘not relevant to climate change issue’

The debate on ‘more or less animals in Ireland’ is not relevant to dealing with the global challenge of climate change, says Teagasc scientist Rogier Schulte.

“Instead of a debate on animal numbers, we need a debate on what food we need to produce, where we want to produce it and for whom,” Prof Schulte told 400 farming and food industry leaders attending the Agricultural Science Association conference in Kilkenny.

“The current debate on ‘eat less meat’ is too simplistic when you take a global perspective,” he said.

“Instead, we need an informed debate on where each food product can best be produced.”

Prof Schulte, who is chairing the FAO steering committee on benchmarking the environmental performance of livestock systems and leads the Teagasc working group on greenhouse gas emissions, outlined “a new equation for low-carbon efficient livestock farming” to meet the twin objectives of reducing emissions and achieving global food security.

“For example, pigs and poultry are very efficient in converting plants into food,” he said. “But they compete for cereals with human consumption.

"Ruminants, on the other hand, are fairly inefficient producers of protein, but they are the only animals that can give us food from grasslands, which cover approximately one third of the world’s surface.

“Of course, this argument only stacks up if we continue our relentless focus on farm efficiency and on low-carbon animal production systems.”

Prof Schulte said that offsetting emissions through sequestration of carbon is a vital component of the carbon emissions equation.

“While there are incentives for farmers to plant forests, there is no recognition of the carbon sequestration value of forestry”, said Prof Schulte. He said the real debate on climate change now centres on what will happen after 2020.

“In this debate, the science of what can be achieved must come first,” he said.

“The 2014 European Council negotiations on the 2030 climate and energy package which saw the adoption of the clause on agriculture which was proposed by the Irish government is a real example of how good science can change policy.”


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