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Mitigating the environmental impact of cattle and sheep: animal genetics and farmers’ readiness for uptake

Ann Bruce

Funding: ESRC

January 1 2010 – December 31 2011

  • Understand cattle and sheep farmers’ uptake of breeding technologies in the context of the system of innovation in animal breeding
  • Evaluate policy and other measures that could affect the uptake of breeding technologies to reduce global warming impact
  • A workshop for 10-15 people to set up the project and identify key issues. These people will be recruited from organisations in the livestock production, breeding, food processing and retailing and extension/advisory/knowledge transfer sectors as well as relevant policy makers.
  • Up to 40 face-to-face or telephone semi-structured interviews with individual farmers, meat processors/retailers, livestock auctioneers, livestock traders, trade associations/levy boards, pedigree breeders and breed improvement organisations, extension/advisory/knowledge transfer agencies, agricultural societies, farmers unions, agricultural press.
  • A workshop to present preliminary conclusions with a view to finalising them.


Global warming is often thought as being caused by energy production but the second largest contributor is animal production, with methane produced by cows and sheep a key component.

One obvious solution is to reduce meat and milk consumption but this is unlikely to be acceptable to everyone. Moreover, grass-fed animals (such as cows and sheep) can provide other benefits than food, such as managing biodiversity.

The UK has a good climate for producing grass and many of the upland regions of the UK cannot be used for cultivating anything other than grass. Grazing animals therefore provide the backbone of many rural communities.

A range of different animal breeding technologies, such as traditional genetic methods to improve production efficiency or using biotechnology tools such as semen sexing and even potentially genetic modification, could be used to mitigate the global warming impact of farm livestock. Adoption of these technologies, however, may be limited by the willingness of farmers to purchase these animals.

Aims and objectives

With a focus on sheep and beef cattle, the aims of this project are to:

Research methods

The project will conduct individual interviews and workshops to achieve its aims, more specifically:


Findings from this project have been summarised in the six briefing papers below.

Briefing note on animal breeding and genetics (PDF 476KB)

Briefing note on the beef industry (PDF 634KB)

Briefing note on food sector opportunities to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (PDF 646KB)

Briefing note on the sheep industry (PDF 779KB)

Policy briefing - Mitigating the environmental impact of cattle and sheep (PDF 663KB)

Will beef & sheep farmers use breeding technologies to reduce carbon footprints? (PDF 770KB)

Further information

For additional information about this project please contact Ann Bruce,