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Climate change - tough challenges for livestock

Media release
3 September 2008

IRL Chief Executive says climate change poses tough challenges to livestock agriculture

The world’s livestock industries will face a tough future as they come to grips with climate change.

In a speech to the 2008 Crawford Fund Conference in Canberra, Australia on 3 September, IRL Chief Executive Shaun Coffey says livestock farming will be doubly impacted.

“Livestock enterprises are being directly affected by climate change while at the same time contributing to that change.”

Mr Coffey, who is a livestock industry expert, told delegates that while there were ready options for livestock farmers to adapt to climate change, the same was not true for mitigating the impact of livestock on greenhouse gas emissions.

“In a world where livestock numbers are tipped to double in the next 40 years to meet global food demand, it is not unreasonable to expect emissions from animals will also rise. The task of reducing or maintaining emissions at current levels from livestock is daunting.”

He cites one study that suggests the wealthy developed countries of the world such as the US, Australia and New Zealand may need to reduce meat consumption by up to two-thirds by the year 2050.

“This has enormous implications in social and cultural terms, and brings into stark reality the investment needed to achieve such a shift.

“Already some technical success has been achieved in reducing greenhouse gas emissions from sheep and cattle by about 20%, but these gains will be difficult to deliver on a global basis.”

Mr Coffey says a significant limitation on further reducing the rate of emissions is that much more research is needed to understand basic animal performance.

“We need a better understanding of species and genome effects, of the efficiency of nutrition in ruminants like cattle, and of the physiological traits enabling them to cope with extremes of temperature. Unfortunately, much of this research is by nature incremental; the very type of research that now seems to be out of favour with some national research bodies.”

During his speech, Mr Coffey also outlined other impacts of climate change such as the re-emergence of Rift Valley disease in Africa and the spread of new diseases such as Blue Tongue into parts of Europe. He also discussed possibilities for farming of wild life such as kangaroos as a substitute for cattle in arid areas of Australia.

Mr Coffey suggests that it will not be easy for the livestock industries to respond to climate change.

“It is not a simple technological issue, but involves complex adjustments in social and cultural norms. It will also require significant capital reinvestment and depend on a more concerted research effort to understand the basic function of animals,” he concludes.


About the Crawford Fund

The ATSE Crawford Fund was established in June 1987 by The Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering to promote and support international R&D activities in which Australian research organisations and companies are active participants. It is named in honour of the late Sir John Crawford to commemorate his outstanding services to international agricultural research.

The topic of its 2008 conference is “Agriculture in a changing climate: the new international research frontier”.

About Industrial Research Limited

Industrial Research Limited (IRL) is a commercial company with the New Zealand Government as shareholder and provides research, science and advanced technology support to industry to enhance their performance and add value to the New Zealand economy. At our core is innovation based on world-class science and engineering.

This research serves a range of industry sectors with an emphasis on the speciality manufacturing, specialised food processing, biopharmaceuticals, the medical and energy industries, Information and Communications Technologies and construction and engineering.

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