No need to reduce cattle herds to meet Cop26 target, farmers’ union says

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There is no need to reduce the size of beef and dairy herds to meet the UK’s commitment to slash methane emissions by 30% by 2030, the UK’s biggest farming union has said.

The leaders of the National Farmers’ Union say changes to farming practices and new technology will deliver the cuts needed to meet the pledge announced at the Cop26 summit this week.

On Tuesday, it was revealed that more than 100 countries – including the UK – have signed up to the global methane pledge, which if delivered, could curb warming by 0.3C by the 2040s.

Methane remains in the atmosphere for only around a decade – unlike carbon dioxide which can endure for hundreds of years – but is a significantly more powerful greenhouse gas.

UK food standards
National Farmers’ Union president Minette Batters says there has been no dialogue with farmers (PA)

Livestock farming accounted for 54% of the UK’s methane emissions in 2019, according to Government data, with cattle the biggest source because it is produced through the animals’ digestion process.

But the NFU says any shift away from beef and dairy would just see the UK offshoring its emissions to countries with lower environmental standards.

It says efforts to reduce methane through supplements to cattle feed, as well as attempts to breed livestock that emit less of the gas, will solve the problem.

Martin Kennedy, president of NFU Scotland, said: “You’ve got to bear in mind that if we don’t do it here in a sustainable fashion, we will offshore emissions to other parts of the world that don’t have the same attention to climate and biodiversity.”

He added: “Farming are the one industry that can work on both sides of this equation – yes we produce harmful gases but we can sequester carbon as well.”

Minette Batters, president of NFU England, said there had been no dialogue with farmers from the Government about how methane would be measured, or the steps required to reduce it.

“Don’t forget (the UK) has legislated to achieve net zero so farmers know this is coming and they really want to get ahead of this,” she said.

“Farmers are really hungry for the skills and the knowledge to equip them on this journey.”

Victor Chesnutt, president of the Ulster Farmers’ Union, said had been “on the page” of reducing emissions for a long time.

“It’s just that we need to go further and learn new things and new technologies – in Northern Ireland the dairy industry has reduced its greenhouse gasses by 30% in the last 30 years,” he said.

“We can go further and there will be new technologies coming in, so this is not about reducing our livestock because that would be counterproductive.”

Mr Chesnutt added: “We’re not overly concerned about the methane emissions because I think we’ve shown, as we’ve done in the past, that we can move forward, and we will do.”

John Davis, president of NFU Cymru, cited studies showing that methane emissions from UK farms are lower than the global average.

“We’ve got this vision and ambition to get better, we’ve got an opportunity to lead the world here and there are some really exciting opportunities.”

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