A report from the UK government’s advisory Committee on Climate Change (CCC) has highlighted the potential for a possible 50% reduction in UK cattle and sheep numbers.
The rationale behind this recommendation is based on the assertion that ruminant livestock produce higher levels of Greenhouses gases than other farmed animals.
The report also highlights the government’s own health recommendations, which point to the benefits of people consuming lower quantities of red meat and dairy products. In turn, this would result in consumers including higher quantities of plant-based food in their diets.
The report also envisages the growth in laboratory-produced meat products as more mainstream consumer options during the period ahead.
Responding to these assertions, Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) deputy president, Victor Chestnutt said: “We recognise that farming has an important role to play in helping tackle climate change. However, any changes and challenges driven by new legislation or policies must be managed sensibly. The impact on farm businesses in terms of the social, environmental and economic benefits they deliver must also be taken into consideration.
“We are reviewing the report in detail, which is based purely on a modelling exercise. Some of the changes being suggested, not least the reduction in livestock numbers, will be wholly unacceptable to our industry.”
He added: “Significant reductions in the dairy, beef and lamb numbers would put the industry at risk. Ultimately, it would put farmers out of business. Leading to land abandonment and wider knock-on consequences in terms of jobs in the supply chain, the managed landscape of Northern Ireland and the viability of our rural communities.
“Livestock production in Northern Ireland is a sustainable, grass-based system that makes the most of our landscape and is the cornerstone of our rural economy. Much of our land is not suitable for growing crops like fruit, cereals and vegetables – but ideal for locally-produced top quality milk, beef and lamb. That grass and hill ground also plays an important carbon capture role.
“The strength of our grass based systems is that it reduces our reliance on imported feedstuffs. Climate change poses significant risks to global food security and that may give Northern Ireland and the UK a competitive advantage and increase our importance as a food-producing nation.”