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There is a great potential to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions related to livestock production. For achieving this potential will require new initiatives at national and international levels that include promoting research and development on new mitigation technologies; deploying, diffusing and transferring technologies to mitigate emissions; and enhancing capacities to monitor, report and verify emissions from livestock production. This study describes the sources of livestock-related GHG emissions and reviews available mitigation technologies and practices. We assess the main policy instruments available to curb emissions and promote carbon sinks, and discuss the relative merits of alternative approaches. We discuss recent experiences in countries that have enacted mitigation strategies for the livestock sector to illustrate some of the key issues and constraints in policy implementation. Finally, we explore the main issues and challenges surrounding international efforts to mitigate GHG emissions and discuss some possible ways to address these challenges in future climate agreements.
In the UK, recent mean temperatures have consistently increased by between 1°C and 4°C compared to the 30-year monthly averages. Furthermore, all available predictive models for the UK indicate that the climate is likely to change further and feature more extreme weather events and a trend towards wetter, milder winters and hotter, drier summers. These changes will alter the prevalence of endemic diseases spatially and/or temporally and impact on animal health and welfare. Most notable among these endemic parasites are the helminths, which have been shown to be very strongly influenced by both the short-term weather and climate through effects on their free-living larval stages on pasture. In this review, we examine recent trends in prevalence and epidemiology of key helminth species and consider whether these could be climate-related. We identify likely effects of temperature and rainfall on the free-living stages and some key parasite traits likely to determine parasite abundance under changed climatic conditions. We find clear evidence that climate change, especially elevated temperature, has already changed the overall abundance, seasonality and spatial spread of endemic helminths in the UK. We explore some confounders and alternative explanations for the observed patterns. Finally, we explore the implications of these findings for policy makers and the livestock industry and make some recommendations for future research priorities.
Soil carbon sequestration (enhanced sinks) is the mechanism responsible for most of the greenhouse gas (GHG) mitigation potential in the agriculture sector. Carbon sequestration in grasslands can be determined directly by measuring changes in soil organic carbon (SOC) stocks and indirectly by measuring the net balance of C fluxes. A literature search shows that grassland C sequestration reaches on average 5 ± 30 g C/m2 per year according to inventories of SOC stocks and −231 and 77 g C/m2 per year for drained organic and mineral soils, respectively, according to C flux balance. Off-site C sequestration occurs whenever more manure C is produced by than returned to a grassland plot. The sum of on- and off-site C sequestration reaches 129, 98 and 71 g C/m2 per year for grazed, cut and mixed European grasslands on mineral soils, respectively, however with high uncertainty. A range of management practices reduce C losses and increase C sequestration: (i) avoiding soil tillage and the conversion of grasslands to arable use, (ii) moderately intensifying nutrient-poor permanent grasslands, (iii) using light grazing instead of heavy grazing, (iv) increasing the duration of grass leys; (v) converting grass leys to grass-legume mixtures or to permanent grasslands. With nine European sites, direct emissions of N2O from soil and of CH4 from enteric fermentation at grazing, expressed in CO2 equivalents, compensated 10% and 34% of the on-site grassland C sequestration, respectively. Digestion inside the barn of the harvested herbage leads to further emissions of CH4 and N2O by the production systems, which were estimated at 130 g CO2 equivalents/m2 per year. The net balance of on- and off-site C sequestration, CH4 and N2O emissions reached 38 g CO2 equivalents/m2 per year, indicating a non-significant net sink activity. This net balance was, however, negative for intensively managed cut sites indicating a source to the atmosphere. In conclusion, this review confirms that grassland C sequestration has a strong potential to partly mitigate the GHG balance of ruminant production systems. However, as soil C sequestration is both reversible and vulnerable to disturbance, biodiversity loss and climate change, CH4 and N2O emissions from the livestock sector need to be reduced and current SOC stocks preserved.
Genetic improvement of livestock is a particularly effective technology, producing permanent and cumulative changes in performance. This paper highlights some of the options for including mitigation in livestock breeding schemes, focusing on ruminant species, and details three routes through which genetic improvement can help to reduce emissions per kg product via: (i) improving productivity and efficiency, (ii) reducing wastage in the farming system and (iii) directly selecting on emissions, if or when these are measurable. Selecting on traits that improve the efficiency of the system (e.g. residual feed intake, longevity) will have a favourable effect on the overall emissions from the system. Specific examples of how genetic selection will have a favourable effect on emissions for UK dairy systems are described. The development of breeding schemes that incorporate environmental concerns is both desirable and possible. An example of how economic valuation of public good outcomes can be incorporated into UK dairy selection indices is given. This paper focuses on genetic selection tools using, on the whole, currently available traits and tools. However, new direct and indirect measurement techniques for emissions will improve the potential to reduce emissions by genetic selection. The complexities of global forces on defining selection objectives are also highlighted.
Decreasing enteric methane (CH4) emissions from ruminants without altering animal production is desirable both as a strategy to reduce global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and as a means of improving feed conversion efficiency. The aim of this paper is to provide an update on a selection of proved and potential strategies to mitigate enteric CH4 production by ruminants. Various biotechnologies are currently being explored with mixed results. Approaches to control methanogens through vaccination or the use of bacteriocins highlight the difficulty to modulate the rumen microbial ecosystem durably. The use of probiotics, i.e. acetogens and live yeasts, remains a potentially interesting approach, but results have been either unsatisfactory, not conclusive, or have yet to be confirmed in vivo. Elimination of the rumen protozoa to mitigate methanogenesis is promising, but this option should be carefully evaluated in terms of livestock performances. In addition, on-farm defaunation techniques are not available up to now. Several feed additives such as ionophores, organic acids and plant extracts have also been assayed. The potential use of plant extracts to reduce CH4 is receiving a renewed interest as they are seen as a natural alternative to chemical additives and are well perceived by consumers. The response to tannin- and saponin-containing plant extracts is highly variable and more research is needed to assess the effectiveness and eventual presence of undesirable residues in animal products. Nutritional strategies to mitigate CH4 emissions from ruminants are, without doubt, the most developed and ready to be applied in the field. Approaches presented in this paper involve interventions on the nature and amount of energy-based concentrates and forages, which constitute the main component of diets as well as the use of lipid supplements. The possible selection of animals based on low CH4 production and more likely on their high efficiency of digestive processes is also addressed. Whatever the approach proposed, however, before practical solutions are applied in the field, the sustainability of CH4 suppressing strategies is an important issue that has to be considered. The evaluation of different strategies, in terms of total GHG emissions for a given production system, is discussed.
Livestock contribute directly (i.e. as methane and nitrous oxide (N2O)) to about 9% of global anthropogenic greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and around 3% of UK emissions. If all parts of the livestock production lifecycle are included (fossil fuels used to produce mineral fertilizers used in feed production and N2O emissions from fertilizer use; methane release from the breakdown of fertilizers and from animal manure; land-use changes for feed production and for grazing; land degradation; fossil fuel use during feed and animal production; fossil fuel use in production and transport of processed and refrigerated animal products), livestock are estimated to account for 18% of global anthropogenic emissions, but less than 8% in the UK. In terms of GHG emissions per unit of livestock product, monogastric livestock are more efficient than ruminants; thus in the UK, while sheep and cattle accounted for 32% of meat production in 2006, they accounted for ∼48% of GHG emissions associated with meat production. More efficient management of grazing lands and of manure can have a direct impact in decreasing emissions. Improving efficiency of livestock production through better breeding, health interventions or improving fertility can also decrease GHG emissions through decreasing the number of livestock required per unit product. Increasing the energy density of the diet has a dual effect, decreasing both direct emissions and the numbers of livestock per unit product, but, as the demands for food increase in response to increasing human population and a better diet in some developing countries, there is increasing competition for land for food v. energy-dense feed crops. Recalculating efficiencies of energy and protein production on the basis of human-edible food produced per unit of human-edible feed consumed gave higher efficiencies for ruminants than for monogastric animals. The policy community thus have difficult decisions to make in balancing the negative contribution of livestock to the environment against the positive benefit in terms of food security. The animal science community have a responsibility to provide an evidence base which is objective and holistic with respect to these two competing challenges.
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