Emissions and production systems top challenges for US livestock farmers

Andrew Loftus

Andrew Loftus

NFU Livestock Board North chair

Andrew Loftus with NFU colleagues and representatives from the US National Cattlemen's Beef Association

NFU Livestock Board member Andrew Loftus reports on the recent NFU visit to the US, the challenges farmers there are facing and the long-term implications.

We learned so much about US agriculture on our recent visit to Illinois and Washington DC that it’s hard to know where to begin. But two key areas stood out to me.

Firstly, US cattle farmers are increasingly aware of the challenge to meat consumption from the way ruminant methane emissions are measured and want to work with us to resolve this; and secondly, the potential downstream impacts of Proposition 12 in US law.

Accounting for emissions

Within minutes of sitting down to discuss beef production with the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association in their impressive DC office, our US counterparts raised the NFU’s recent press release on methane accounting (which supports the updated GWP* method for quantifying methane emissions).

A great conversation ensued which focussed on gaining international support, including from scientists and NGOs as well as farming organisations, to make sure those at the heart of climate change policy around the world, and especially at the UN, do not treat livestock farming unfairly.

Clear differences in production

It's clear that there are differences between UK and US beef production, differences of scale and also permitted production methods, but with a US/UK free trade deal on agrifoods off the agenda for the time being, it makes sense to concentrate on those areas, like methane, where we can work more powerfully together.

Pork and Proposition 12

For hog (pig) farmers, in both in Illinois and DC, Proposition 12 presents a change to their production systems. In a nutshell, this is a piece of Californian legislation that prohibits the sale of pork products in the state of California produced using sow stalls.

Andrew Loftus Illinois visit

Extraordinarily, it does not just ban the use of crates in California (an accepted use of State power within the US federal system) but goes much further to prevent the sale within California of pork not produced to this standard, with potentially huge fines for those found to do so.

Long-term implications

This use of State power was recently upheld by the US Supreme Court, with significant long-term implications for the future of the US internal market. For California, a state which consumes 13% of US pork but produces just 1%, the impact of this ruling is far-reaching, with the scope to affect existing trade agreements, such as with Canada.

This is a rapidly evolving area of international and also it seems intranational trade…. and one that will provide opportunities as well as challenges. I cannot help noticing that UK pork, which is already on sale in the US, would comply with those Californian requirements already.

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