The aim of this study, Defra project AC0120, was to understand whether GHG emissions can be reduced in the national cattle sector in a cost-effective way by implementing measures to control endemic diseases or conditions. The project was an interdisciplinary study which bought together a number of fields (veterinary science, animal production and modellers, for example) to explore possible mitigation measures achievable through disease control interventions, and link these to economic analysis through marginal abatement cost curves (MACC).
The key findings of the project were that:
- The work provides a ‘proof of concept’ that interventions intended to improve cattle health can be modelled to quantify GHG abatement in terms of scale and cost-effectiveness.
- A large number of treatments are cost-effective for farmers, especially in the dairy sector, but uptake is poor so action is needed to inform and prompt change.
- Efficiency gains are likely to lead to increased production but price effects are small. A key factor is land use change where land is released from livestock production.
- The opportunity for GHG abatement identified in this UK study could potentially be multiplied many times over if applied to cattle and other livestock globally.
- Whilst the study focused on an intensive livestock system with good levels of disease control within the UK, the scope for abatement in developing countries is potentially much greater and should be explored further.
This was a complex study with a number of assumptions, including the consideration of diseases individually where in practice they exist in combination and interact in complex ways. Another caveat was that land use change impacts were outside the scope of the model. The validity of the assumptions could not be checked within the scope of the project and it was recommended to follow up the project with a more detailed look into one or two diseases to explore a variety of different control approaches.