Tackling GHG emissions in the livestock supply chain

Published on

According the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), global GHG emissions from livestock could be cut by up to 30% through the adoption of current best practice techniques at farm level and by reducing the “emission intensity gap” between livestock operations. This article looks at how businesses can promote best practice in livestock production, lower production costs and reduce GHG emissions in their supply chain. 

Tackling GHG emissions in the livestock supply chain

Greenhouse gas emissions from livestock:

A study by the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), estimated that livestock systems accounted for 14.5% of total global GHG emissions from human activities in 2010. This includes energy use and land-use change along the supply chain.  Within the EU, a recent report concluded that the emissions from livestock are estimated to be responsible for around 9.1% of all emissions in the Union. The UK figure is less still, estimated at around 5% of total emissions. This variation is mainly due to lower emissions from land use change and more efficient production systems. Direct emissions from livestock and feed production are currently responsible for approximately 80% of the total global agriculture emissions. Clearly, the livestock sector has an important role to play in any effort to reduce the contribution of food production to global climate change.

“Beef and cattle milk production account for the majority of GHG emissions, respectively contributing 41% and 20% of the sector’s emissions. While pig meat and poultry meat and eggs contribute respectively 9% and 8% to the sector’s emissions.”       Source: FAO - Tackling Climate Change through Livestock

There is currently a lot of variation in livestock production practices, even within similar production systems. This opens what FAO terms “an emission intensity gap” between livestock operations that generate high emissions per unit of product and those that put out low emissions per unit of product. This “Gap” signals opportunity.

The FAO believe that growth in animal sourced products will be particularly strong with meat and milk demand expected to grow by 73% and 58% respectively by 2050, compared to a 2010 baseline. The agriculture sector is already the second biggest emitter of greenhouse gases (GHG) after energy and these growth estimates indicate an urgent need to decouple emissions from growth in livestock production.

Reducing the emission intensity of livestock produce presents a realistic approach to reduce relative GHG emissions from livestock produce i.e. emissions per kg of product, limiting the environmental impact of the livestock sector, while ensuring a sufficient quantity of high quality food and other livestock based products.

Why should food and drink businesses consider GHG emissions in their supply chain?

With the Climate Change Act establishing legally binding climate change targets in the UK, companies are under increasing pressure to reduce GHG emissions and move beyond direct operations to supply chain reductions.

As the sector with the second-largest GHG emissions globally, agriculture will face increasingly tight regulatory requirements. The policy landscape concerning agricultural emissions is changing rapidly, representing a significant risk to businesses. A new global climate change deal, due to be agreed in Paris in December 2015, will only accelerate the rate of change. With the agriculture sector producing such a high proportion of the world’s GHG emissions, it is likely to be targeted for significant climate change-related policy transformation in the future.

Other business drivers for reducing emissions down the supply chain include:

  • Identification of cost savings
  • Improved reputation
  • Meeting stakeholder expectations
  • Identifications of suppliers that need additional support
  • Identification and mitigation of resource use risks within the supply chain

These benefits are explored in more detail in our previous article on Reducing supply chain GHG emissions.

How can reduction in emissions in livestock production be achieved?

Possible interventions to reduce emissions from livestock tend to be based on technologies and practices that improve production efficiency at animal and herd levels. A recently published report on Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Livestock provides a practical overview of currently available best practice and promising developments for the near future to mitigate emissions from animal production.  This report was the result of a joint effort between the Livestock Research Group of the Global Research Alliance (GRA) on Agricultural Greenhouse Gases and of the Dairy and Beef Working Groups of the Sustainable Agriculture Initiative (SAI) Platform. A summary of the options and development stage are shown in Table 1.

Table 1: Summary of mitigation options across different areas and “levels of maturity” Source: Reducing GHG emissions from livestock.


The Global Research Alliance on Agricultural Greenhouse Gases (GRA) is a voluntary initiative between countries to collaborate in the research, development and extension of technologies and practices that will help grow more food while reducing greenhouse gas emissions intensity.

The Sustainable Agriculture Initiative (SAI) Platform is the global industry initiative helping food and drink companies to achieve sustainable production and source agricultural raw materials.

How ADAS can help

Understand the supply chain | Mapping and analysing the supply chain to identify and prioritise key issues. Productions systems vary widely in their GHG emissions and other environmental impacts which often requires a balanced view.

Engage with the supply chain | There is a wide range of information that supports practical and economic steps to reducing livestock production GHG emissions that will benefit farming and the supply chain.  Engaging the supply chain on GHG emissions can have further benefits in other environmental areas such as water or waste once these communication channels are open.

Provide ongoing support, monitor progress & reward best practice | It is not enough to just agree actions and hope that they are achieved.  It is important to monitor their progress towards completing those actions, providing support as required, and to measure progress towards targets.

Report achievements | Reducing GHG emissions is often an important public relations tool and results can be used to support a communications strategy that demonstrates the actions that a company is taking towards reducing GHG emissions from its supply chain as part of social and environmental responsibility.

ADAS expertise and case study projects

ADAS livestock specialists develop and deliver independent advice for farmers on a range of technical issues including animal husbandry, health and welfare, nutrition, breeding, manure management and business issues. They also support our economists, researchers, modellers and sustainability experts in delivering impartial evidence-based policy advice to Government and strategic projects in the supply chain to drive sustainable improvement pre- and post- farm gate. Examples of recent work include:

  • On behalf of a large UK retailer, ADAS benchmarked the GHG emissions from pig meat and poultry production across a subset of their suppliers using the Cool Farm Tool (CFT). This project identified variations in emissions intensity between suppliers and provided recommendations on best practice in GHG abatement in their pig meat and poultry procurement.


  • ADAS are currently leading a project for Defra to develop a livestock diet inventory for the UK to help make more robust calculations of GHG emissions. This project involves industry consultation and range of expert input.


  • ADAS recently completed a study on behalf of Defra, looking at whether GHG emissions can be reduced in the cattle sector by implementing measures to control endemic diseases. It demonstrated that a large number of treatments are cost-effective for farmers and can substantially reduce GHG emissions per kilogram of product. It also found that these GHG abatement opportunities could potentially be multiplied many times over if applied to cattle and other livestock globally.

For more information on what your organisation could be doing to reduce your supply chain GHG emissions and how ADAS can help, please contact Sarah Wynn,

ADAS provides advice and solutions to the agri-food industry to secure sustainable supplies of raw materials and manage risk in agricultural supply chains. Our long history of engaging with the farming industry and Government ensures our consultants understand the different drivers across the food chain, from pre-farm gate to consumer. Our clients include PepsiCo, SABMiller, M&S and Heineken.



Number of views (3227)

Share this article:

RSK logo

ADAS is part of the RSK Group. RSK is the UK’s largest privately-owned multi-disciplinary environmental consultancy and one of the fastest-growing companies of its kind in Europe. With operations in Europe, Africa, and the Middle East, our solutions-led consultancy services help organisations conduct business in a compliant, and environmentally-responsible manner

Spring Lodge, 172 Chester Road,
Helsby, WA6 0AR
+44 (0)1928 726006

ADAS logo

ADAS is the UK’s largest independent provider of agricultural and environmental consultancy, rural development services and policy advice. We have a unique combination of practical experience, underpinned by science-based data, which allows us to meet the needs of our clients. Our great strength is our breadth and depth of expertise spanning the entire environmental sector.

Spring Lodge, 172 Chester Road,
Helsby, WA6 0AR
+44 (0)333 0142950

Copyright 2018 RSK ADAS Ltd.
ADAS is a trading name of RSK ADAS Ltd. Registered in England No. 10486936

| Terms Of Use | Privacy Copyright 2020 RSK ADAS Ltd.