Animal scientists must play key role in providing accurate climate-change data  

25 Aug 2008

Animal scientists have a key role to play in providing robust and objective data concerning the impact on livestock production and agriculture on climate change. That was the key message from the University of Aberdeen’s Maggie Gill, who is also the chief scientific adviser to SEERAD, when she spoke to delegates at this year’s British Society of Animal Science annual conference. “At the moment many figures used by politicians and other organisations are mere estimates. Yet these figures are seized upon and many important decisions are being based upon them,” she said. “Some decisions are political, but they are also evidence based and it is vital that this ‘evidence’ is accurate.” Professor Gill told delegates that there was no bigger threat to our civilisation than climate change. “To counter this threat, climate change bills in the UK propose a 60% reduction in CO2 equivalent emissions by 2050. And Scotland has set an even greater target of 80%. “But one problem is that it’s tricky to calculate exact carbon footprints, particularly in relation to food production.” She said that some animal scientists were involved: ‘but not enough’. “And there are too many telling us to grow more crops and move away from ruminant the production. There are not enough looking at the wider picture, which also involves the growing issue of food security.” Professor Gill added that there was a strong need for more livestock science in many of the reports being produced. “Livestock are not the ‘sinners’ and it’s up to us to put this point across. “We need to be taking a more strategic view to provide the Government with the figures and information that it needs. We have to be doing the ‘feeding’ to ensure that the data is accurate.” She said that there were exciting opportunities for scientists and livestock producers. “At the moment livestock production has a negative profile as far as both food security and climate change are concerned, but we have to highlight the wider environmental context. For example, there’s a lot of carbon locked up in grassland. To prevent this from having an environmental impact, it needs to stay there so this land must be grazed. “Scientists must demonstrate what a huge contribution our livestock producers are already making to protect the environment – it’s not all about meat production. “And lots of scientists working together will ensure that the figures, which are fiendishly difficult to calculate, will be both robust and objective.” Presented to the British Society of Animal Science Annual Meeting, March 31 to April 2, 2008, Scarborough, UK. summary (pdf)    Presentation_284gill (pdf) Full details: http://www.bsas.org.uk/Publications/Annual_Conference_Proceedings/ PDF of Powerpoint presentations available at http://www.bsas.org.uk/Members_Area/ Gill ME and Smith P April 2008: “Mitigating climate change: the role of livestock in agriculture.”  Proceedings of the British Society of Animal Science, pp 284 Email: sharon.nicol@scoland.gsi.gov.uk