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Livestock greenhouse gas emissions and mitigation potential in Europe

This article, published in Global Change Biology, examines the total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions for the EU27 livestock sector for the year 2007 utilizing a life cycle assessment, which examines every step and input during the creation of a product to calculate total GHG emissions. They also examined the GHG emissions from livestock production, consumption of imported livestock products and wastage.

Based on their findings in this review, the authors recommend that EU27 policies be developed to influence both production and consumption. Strategies include the following:
• A minimization of food waste should be encouraged, to reduce waste levels to be as low as possible.
• Consumption patterns should be changed to meet healthy eating guidelines, and production reduced accordingly by favouring more sustainable production systems.
• Current land management practices should be optimized and the less-intensive grazing systems favoured, with lower fertilizer inputs. There should be reduced reliance on feeding grains to livestock.
• Anaerobic digestion of animal manures and of food waste (after waste levels have been minimized and appropriate food waste has gone to feed pigs and poultry) should be implemented. This reduces methane emissions and also offsets fossil fuel emissions from the energy sector. The digested end product can be used as high quality, low odour fertilizer.
Abstract: The livestock sector contributes considerably to global greenhouse gas emissions (GHG). Here, for the year 2007 we examined GHG emissions in the EU27 livestock sector and estimated GHG emissions from production and consumption of livestock products; including imports, exports and wastage. We also reviewed available mitigation options and estimated their potential. The focus of this review is on the beef and dairy sector since these contribute 60% of all livestock production emissions. Particular attention is paid to the role of land use and land use change (LULUC) and carbon sequestration in grasslands. GHG emissions of all livestock products amount to between 630 and 863 Mt CO2e, or 12–17% of total EU27 GHG emissions in 2007. The highest emissions, aside from production, originate from LULUC, followed by emissions from wasted food. The total GHG mitigation potential from the livestock sector in Europe is between 101 and 377 Mt CO2e equivalent to between 12 and 61% of total EU27 livestock sector emissions in 2007. A reduction in food waste and consumption of livestock products linked with reduced production, are the most effective mitigation options, and if encouraged, would also deliver environmental and human health benefits. Production of beef and dairy on grassland, as opposed to intensive grain fed production, can be associated with a reduction in GHG emissions depending on actual LULUC emissions. This could be promoted on rough grazing land where appropriate.
Citation as follows:
Bellarby, J., Tirado, R., Leip, A., Weiss, F., Lesschen, J. P. and Smith, P. (2012), Livestock greenhouse gas emissions and mitigation potential in Europe. Global Change Biology. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2486.2012.02786.x

For the article, click here (subscription required).
For additional articles on livestock and greenhouse emissions in the FCRN research library, click here.

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minute read

12 Nov 2012
Research trails