Emissions in the beef and sheep production sector have fallen in almost every decade for the past 40 years, a study has estimated.
The project which looked at historic performance and production data for beef cattle between 1970 and 2010, showed the beef carbon footprint fell from 23.05kg of carbon dioxide equivalents (kg CO2-e) per kilogram of liveweight, to 14.41kg CO2-e.
This is equivalent to a 9.4% fall every decade.
The figure for sheep fell from 13.8kg CO2-e to 11.78kg CO2-e over the same period. While hindered by a lack of consistent quality data, said EBLEX, who commissioned the work, the figures for sheep still showed a reduction of 9.3% in the last ten years. EBLEX put this down to greater output for every ewe and reduced reliance on artificial fertiliser.
However, on-farm production still accounts for 90% of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the supply chain and there is still scope for improvement, said EBLEX.
The UK Climate Change Act 2008 requires an overall reduction of 80% in GHGs from 1990 levels by 2050 across the UK economy.
"While we realise there are limitations to the modelling, what this does show is an overall downward trend in greenhouse gas emissions from performance improvements and greater efficiency within enterprises and this is a positive story for the industry."
Chris Lloyd, EBLEX industry development manager
DEFRA has set the agriculture sector an interim target to reduce its contribution to GHGs by 11% by 2020 based on 2008 figures.
The scale of challenge for beef and sheep meat producers should not be underestimated, said EBLEX.
"While we realise there are limitations to the modelling, what this does show is an overall downward trend in greenhouse gas emissions from performance improvements and greater efficiency within enterprises and this is a positive story for the industry," said Chris Lloyd, EBLEX industry development manager, at the EBLEX annual conference this week.
"Rather than becoming a scapegoat for emissions, we can demonstrate continued and progressive reductions in our carbon footprint without the need to rely on decreased livestock numbers."
Livestock producers continued to play a valuable role in managing the countryside, which balanced out the "unbalanced" picture of the industry so often painted, said Mr Lloyd.
"The fact remains though, that there is more we can do and we continue to work hard to improve on-farm efficiency, working towards some very tough targets," he said.
"As an industry which relies heavily on extensive production systems, it highlights the challenge faced by sheep farmers in particular looking to produce food from some of the poorest land the country has to offer.
"The climate and terrain play such a large part in production output, and technological and management improvements are hard won."
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