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Fewer burps in your burgers or more birds in the bush?

Bruce, A


Tubingen, Germany

July 4 2012

Methane emissions from cattle and sheep have gained increasing profile in the context of climate change. As well as reduced consumption of meat and dairy products, a range of different technical solutions have been suggested as providing ways of reducing these emissions. These solutions include use of genetic selection, changing varieties of grass, use of feed additives, or use of vaccines to change rumen bacterial composition. However, beef and sheep farming in the UK is focused on upland areas where preservation of biodiversity is important and where many farmers have developed direct customer bases by selling ‘naturally’ produced meat. Many of the technical solutions offered appear to contradict these biodiversity and ‘natural product’ drivers and support more intensive production systems. At the same time increasing concerns about food security provide another driver to farming practice. The ethical question then is, how do you balance these often contradictory requirements? This paper will use data based on interviews with 42 UK beef and sheep farmers and industry representatives to tease out their views on these questions. I will demonstrate that the threat of methane production and its impact on the climate is not seen as credible by beef and sheep farmers; methane from grass-fed animals is not viewed as a pollutant. Furthermore, many of the technical mitigation methods offered lack appeal in hill production systems because of their perceived negative impacts on other desirable outcomes. More intensive beef production systems are, however, amenable to these techniques. A number of difficult ethical trade-offs are raised when considering how best to address methane emissions from sheep and beef cattle.