Defra - Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

Science Search

Science and Research Projects

Return to Science Search homepage   Return to Project List

A study of the scope for the application of research in animal genomics and breeding to reduce nitrogen and methane emissions from livestock based food chains - AC0204

The production of food from animal agriculture is a significant source of emissions in the UK, especially the production of greenhouse gases and pollution of water sources. For cattle and sheep, the major issues are methane and ammonia production and nitrate leaching from grazed land and manure application. For pigs and poultry the main pollutants are ammonia and nitrous oxide emissions from excreta of pigs and poultry, plus leaching from manure application.

Genetic selection for improved output traits of livestock species has been highly effective over recent decades. In many cases there is also good evidence that this has resulted in improved gross efficiency (e.g. feed conversion ratio), but there is less evidence that this has also produced reductions in emissions; for example, if improved yield of dairy cows has resulted in reduced fertility of breeding females, then the net impact on pollution may be less than expected.

This study will take a supply chain approach to reviewing the available information in the area and define the scope for genetics and genomics research investment to contribute to reduced pollution emission from UK livestock-based food chains. The scope of our study will cover beef and dairy cattle, sheep, pigs, broiler chickens and layer hens in the UK. The key livestock supply chains will be determined, but are likely to include: indoor pig production; outdoor pig production; suckler beef production; intensive cereal beef; beef production from dairy cattle; milk production from dairy cattle; egg production from caged, barn or free-range layer hens; broiler poultry production, and sheep meat from hill, upland and lowland sheep flocks.
The overall objective of the project is to assess the scope for the application of breeding and genetics tools to reduce nitrogen and methane emissions from livestock systems and to inform Defra on the potential of future investment in research to improve nitrogen and methane economy. The specific objectives are:

1. To summarise from published sources the levels of emissions from current UK livestock food chains so as to set a baseline for possible future interventions (completed by mid July).
2. To review the effect of past breed improvement (and if possible within the timescale, breed substitution) on the nitrogen and methane emissions per unit output and to forecast future impacts from current selection practices (end August).
3. To review the past and current research on genetic and genomic approaches to affecting the nitrogen economy and methane emissions in livestock based food chains (end August).
4. To identify future research opportunities in this area and analyse these for their potential for the development of breeding strategies to reduce emission from the production of foods of livestock origin whilst maintaining or improving animal well-being, food safety, quality, and biodiversity (Fourth week of October).
5. Report including recommendations to Defra on priority research opportunities (draft report end November and final report mid January).
Project Documents
• Final Report : A study of the scope for the application of research in animal genomics and breeding to reduce nitrogen and methane emissions from livestock based food chains   (351k)
• Final Report : Life cycle analysis   (279k)
• Final Report - Annex : Literature reviews   (940k)
• Final Report - Annex : References for literature review   (57k)
Time-Scale and Cost
From: 2007

To: 2008

Cost: £49,935
Contractor / Funded Organisations
Genesis Faraday Partnership
Agriculture and Climate Change              
Climate and Weather              
Climate Change              
Environmental Protection              
Sustainable Production              
Fields of Study
Agriculture and Climate Change