Every beef system in Scotland can be seen as sustainable, as can every sheep system.
That was the message delivered by UK-based livestock sustainability consultant Jude Capper, when she spoke at the recent Quality Meat Scotland Meat for the Future conference in Glasgow.
The country’s environmental credentials were already strong with greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from all livestock reduced by 15 per cent between 1998 and 2017.
Dr Capper said” “There are big differences around the globe, with Western Europe comparing well with other regions with GHG emissions per kilogram of beef deadweight averaging 18kg.”
UK beef averaged 22.6kg for beef and 25.2 kg for lamb, but there were differences between systems, with the best only producing 7kg of GHG per kg of beef and the worst 55kg.
“The environmental impact of red meat production is not only about emissions,” said Dr Capper, who was named Farming Hero at the 2018 British Farming Awards.
“Water use, nutrient loss, mined resources, pollution and other factors have to be taken into account.
“The differences in water use around the globe are stark. English beef requires 133 litres per kg deadweight to produce, and lamb 96 litres.
“US beef production needs 3,682 litres per kg, with 95 per cent of this due to irrigation.”
Dr Capper estimated Scottish livestock production accounted for 14.7 per cent of the country’s GHG in 2017.
This could be reduced by improving known key performance indicators such as cow or ewe longevity, fertility, animal health, maternal traits and meat yield.
It would also be important to maximise the use of animal feedstuffs which were non-edible for humans.
“The land in Scotland also has the capacity to sequester huge amounts of carbon as long as it is not ploughed. But we need good data on that so it can be shown as a positive,” Dr Capper added.