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Meat eating is good for the planet

Cattle at Westcountry research farm help to prove meat eating is good for the planet
By WMNPBowern | Posted: June 23, 2015

Meat from cattle grazed on grass an environmentally friendly choice

A herd of beef cattle in the Westcountry is at the cutting edge of research to prove that rearing and eating meat can be as friendly to the planet as growing and consuming vegetables and cereals.

Cattle on Rothamsted Research’s grassland facility at North Wyke, near Okehampton, graze on a low input system that helps to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases and means less carbon is used in the production of the meat.

The project, to demonstrate the contribution the sustainable grazing of cows and sheep can make to Britain’s food security, is to feature in next month’s Royal Society science exhibition in London, flying the flag for livestock farmers across the Westcountry and beyond.

The work is being led by Professor Michael Lee, head of site at North Wyke. He told the Western Morning News yesterday meat was an important source of protein – but there were issues with emissions of methane and nitrous oxide from grazing animals that had to be addressed.
He said through developing specific grasses to cut down on the methane and changing the feeding systems to reduce nitrous oxide output, the impact on the planet could be reduced. Add in the savings in C02 emissions from cutting down on the importation of cattle feed and reducing the use of fertilisers and he said it should be possible to bring down the greenhouse emissions from meat production by between 30% and 50%.

The work is helping to puncture the myth, put about by some campaigners for vegetarianism, that only by going for an entirely meat-free diet can we make a serious dent in greenhouse gas emissions.

Prof Lee said a small piece of meat gave consumers significant nutritional benefit for a relatively small amount of greenhouse gas emissions. “Some campaign groups talk about completely doing away with livestock 100%. You are going to have to grow an awful lot of peas, beans, turnips and vegetables to get the same nutritional value,” he said. “We should be measuring kilograms of nutrient for the C02 emitted – then meat would look a lot less harmful than a lot of other food crops.”

North Wyke boasts three 30-strong herds of beef cattle grazing on a world-class field-scale monitoring system run by expert staff. They can measure everything from the intensity of rainfall to the minute traces of chemicals in the run-off. Gas analysers measure the output of greenhouse gases given off by the cows, meaning diet and emissions can be compared.

The work ties in with Prof Lee’s belief that grazing ruminant animals like cattle or sheep on pasture is an important way to feed the world, where a huge part of the of the ice-free land mass is covered with grassland. “If we do away with livestock we are tying our hands behind our back,” he said. “The key driver that we’re working towards here at North Wyke is the sustainable intensification of livestock systems. Rothamsted has positioned itself as the champion of sustainable agriculture.” But he said farms were businesses and farmers had to be able to make a profit – and try to do so without undue damage to the environment.

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