The future for livestock farmers could be pretty bleak if we believe everything we read in the press. Is meat really going to give you cancer? Is producing beef wrecking the rainforests and the planet? Are farting cows really a major contributor to climate change? Will millions starve if we don't all become vegetarians? A seminar on Friday, organised by the Food Research Partnership brought together policymakers, academics and representatives from the industry to ruminate on the problems and brainstorm new approaches. They were asked to think about the contribution that the livestock sector makes to the environment and society so climate change wasn't far from anyone's mind. As meat eating becomes more and more a feature of life in the developing world can what we do in the UK even make a difference? But, in this session, prompted by the Chief Scientific Adviser John Beddington and chaired by Chris Gaskell, Principal of the Royal Agricultural College, the discussion was surprisingly upbeat. Maggie Gill from the Scottish Government encapsulated the messages from the day when she urged producers to move from their defensive position and communicate the positive messages about meat eating to balance out what the public is hearing. Meat can be beneficial for the human diet, grazing is important for maintaining iconic landscapes and animals can transform grass and other fibre that is inedible by humans into valuable protein with great efficiency. By the end of Friday afternoon the groups were in full voice when they fed back to the chair: couldn't we rethink the ban on feeding food waste to pigs instead of sending it to landfill, breed cows that would give more lactations, maybe without having to give birth, and animals that would create less methane. What other technical fixes might be developed to eliminate the methane problem? And why just cows, sheep and pigs? What about all those other animals we could use for food? By this point the delegates were buzzing. Perhaps even ostriches might take off.
A report from the day will be produced for the Chief Scientific Adviser.