Livestock breeds and greenhouse gas emissions

Producing the meat we eat contributes to greenhouse gas emissions. 

A first step to lowering emissions is to understand how greenhouse gas emissions may vary between breeds. This report assessed the current state of confident knowledge for cattle.

Key findings:

  • No clear difference was found between breeds
  • Cattle have not been bred on the basis of their emissions – any differences are based on feed intake or production system
  • Those bred for high productivity may have lower methane emissions per kilogram of beef produced because they consume a smaller amount of feed
  • An animal that can digest its food more quickly will generate fewer emissions as there is less time for processing in the stomach
  • Breeds selected for higher production will have reduced greenhouse gas emissions, particularly when expressed relative to production

However, the evidence shows that selective breeding can be linked with problems of ill health, increased death rates and reduced fertility, and so overall reductions in greenhouse gas emissions will depend on minimising these risks – for example by having an appropriate breed for the environment or management system.