Net Zero Carbon: Meeting UK Livestock Targets event

07 Jan 2022

On the 3rd of December 2022, BSAS and the Centre for Innovation Excellence in Livestock (CIEL) joined forces to host ‘Net Zero Carbon: Meeting UK Livestock Targets.’ The event brought together scientists and commercial industry speakers in a practical and focused programme to inform industry leaders and policy makers of what is possible now, and what may be possible in the future, to reduce emissions from livestock agriculture. The day was split into three sections, focusing on ‘The Animal’, ‘The Farm’ and ‘Creating Net Zero Systems.’

The event was an incredible success, with our panel of speakers addressing how we can use an understanding of biology to better feed animals to reduce emissions, make best use of resources and deliver practical solutions farmers can readily use. They also looked at where carbon leakage occurs and where we can capture carbon more efficiently.

‘The requirement for large scale and accurate data capture on both emissions and sequestration potential, together with the provision of clear and objective information to the media on huge efforts being made throughout the agri-food sector to meet our GHG emissions targets were highlighted as critically important. Additionally, the importance of a concerted and integrated effort from all stakeholders and led by government with clearly defined metrics and tools to capture and quantify the underlying data at industry level, were agreed as being critical to achieving our Net Zero ambitions.’ Event Chair, Prof. David Kenny.

During the event, our panel of speakers challenged attendees with thought-provoking presentations and Q&A sessions. World renowned scientist Prof Alison Van Eenennaam presented a balanced view of what livestock farming is about and what benefits it delivers, while Dr Tom Misselbrook highlighted the difference between National Emissions Targets and product carbon footprint – the latter of which includes emissions occurring overseas for inputs used by our UK farms.  It was also proffered by Prof Chris Reynolds (Reading Uni) that a range of opportunities to further reduce emissions exists and can be explored in relation to methane from ruminants.  Dr Jude Capper also spoke about the need for measurement and good tools to help farmers make decisions that will reduce emissions.

In his presentation – ‘Why we farm animals’, Dr Mark Young (Head of Innovation, CIEL) reminded the audience of why we farm animals – to transform plant materials into high quality protein ideally suited to human dietary need, as they upvalue plant material that we can’t digest ourselves or that we don’t want to eat. Dr Young made the clear point that emissions are part of natural carbon and nitrogen cycles that have been occurring for thousands of years, and part of a natural cycle where plants capture energy in the form of carbon-based molecules and animals released carbon when they utilised this energy. He concluded we must consider livestock related emissions in the context of what livestock deliver to an efficient food system, to the nutritional needs of society and to the way they can exploit land not suited to growing plant food crops for direct human consumption to supply top quality protein in our diet. He also identified the need for innovation, as current technologies will not be able to deliver the reduction in emissions sought for Net Zero by 2050. The low uptake of existing technology in industry, means there is a pressing need for support to drive uptake of innovations that reduce emissions.

‘I was delighted to see such a large, engaged audience. Never has there been a more important time to address the science and issues around how farmers and the supporting sectors implement interventions to reduce emissions on farm and optimise potential to offset through carbon capture utilising land assets. We covered a lot of ground from animal specific interventions (genetics and feed) through to farm system changes and policy needed to support the transition. We also left a lot of questions unanswered around who will pay and the role of the consumer. Such questions will be followed up in our next session on this topic at our annual meeting in Nottingham in April which should not be missed’ BSAS President, Professor Michael Lee

Recording of the webinars are now available to view on demand via the BSAS website, click here to view.