Animal science helps offer solution to global challenges

Animal science needs to be part of the solution in helping society face challenges such as population growth, global food security and environmental change, according to a leading scientist.

Professor Geoff Simm from the University of Edinburgh says livestock production is often part of the challenge, and animal science and innovation needs to be part of solution.

Speaking during the Hammond Lecture at the annual British Society of Animal Science conference in Chester, Prof Simm said: “The challenges are urgent, massive, complex and interconnected. That means solutions will need to be inter and trans-disciplinary and involve systems thinking.”

He said developments in molecular biology, genetics and genomics, data science, remote sensing and precision technology offered a range of new opportunities.

“Global industry breeding programmes have had a major impact on the cost and environmental footprint of livestock products in industrialised countries.

“In dairy cattle, we have seen financial benefits of £2.2-2.4 billion since the 1980s. This has also reduced the greenhouse gas intensity by 1.7 per annum in dairy cows,” he said.

Most animal science has been driven by economic demand, but going forward it needs to focus on the social and environmental aspects too, Prof Simm added.

“This is easy to say, but much harder to achieve. Economic, social and environmental are the three pillars of sustainability.”

From an economic perspective, livestock accounts for 130billion euros annually in the EU economy, he said.

Socially, livestock provide dietary products and micro-nutrients, which are vital for human development, and they also provide co-products, fertiliser, transport and capital. However, the liability is that over-consumption can lead to obesity and disease. 

From an environmental point of view, livestock can use feed resources that humans can’t - such as grassland - as well as supporting biodiversity. However, the liability is they can compete with humans for feed and are also emitters of greenhouse gases, he added.

Prof Simm said BSAS had an important role helping the next generation of animal scientists rise to the challenge and draw attention to new technologies.