pollute less, the challenge of producing as much with fewer cows

Do livestock and global warming go hand in hand? Responsible for more than 14% of CO emissionstwo around the world, at the International Livestock Show (Space) in Rennes, scientists and breeders, however, defend their role and ways of being less polluting.

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Cows in Bassy, ​​Haute-Savoie, on 3 September.
Photo: AFP/VNA/CVN

Livestock, especially cattle, represents “globally 14.5% of greenhouse gas emissions and it is 10% at European level”, notes Jean-Louis Peyraud, director of research at the National Institute for Research in Agriculture, Food and the Environment (Inrae). In question: the methane emitted by cows after their digestion.

“When the animal feeds, it releases hydrogen into the rumen”the first ruminant stomach where the fermentation process takes place.

“If we don’t want cows to inflate like a balloon, they have to be able to blow it out, so their bacteria turn it into methane, which the cows belch out.”continues the researcher.

Following the greenhouse gas reduction targets, “we admit that the agricultural sector will have to decrease” your broadcasts, “but less so than the industrial sector… it is easier to act in a pipeline than in a dairy cow”observes Mr. Peyraud.

Fewer cows and more production

Among the existing levers, extend the duration of the careers of cows, especially dairy cows, to reduce the number of herds while maintaining the same level of production.

The first economy is made from the insemination of the cows, carrying out the “genetic sexing”, which allows separating male and female embryos to control the sex of the calf and have only the desired animals, argues Rudy Muller, general manager of Sexing Technology France, which specializes in this sector.

Next, “when we improve the technical performance, we also improve the ecological aspect”selecting animals that are more productive and more resistant to disease, he argues.

But in France, the average career length of a dairy cow is two and a half years, while it usually reaches its best production capabilities in the third and fourth year of production.

Then, “It’s better to have ten cows producing 10,000 liters than 16 that make 6,000, which will avoid breeding animals to renew the animals that go to the slaughterhouse”he believes.

On a farm in Bassy, ​​Haute-Savoie, on 3 September.
Photo: AFP/VNA/CVN

On Loïc Guines’ farm in Ille-et-Vilaine, past “from intensive to organic”to improve its carbon footprint, the creator also “optimized calving of heifers at 24 months”that is, they are inseminated as soon as their weight and age allow, so that after the calf is born, it can start its milk production cycle.

And all the unfertilized ones go to the slaughterhouse“, explains the breeder. This system allows you to operate with older cows and not have heifers, young cows that have never calved, which will emit greenhouse gases for two years without producing in return.

The consumer as key

In parallel with herd management, animals in pastures allow “to maintain the meadows, where half of Europe’s plant species live”emphasizes Mr. Peyraud.

“If in France and Europe we reduced the creation a lot, which we no longer export, given consumer demand, it would simply be produced in other places and by less efficient systems… In addition to displacing the problem, we are going to make it worse”, defend the scientist.

But away from the farms, at the other end of the food chain, “on the part of consumers, we realize that the main concern is inflation and the issue of well-being at work comes before the environment”, according to Axel Bigot, CSR manager at the Lactalis group.

For breeders, the challenges are therefore multiple: to preserve their level of production and improve their carbon footprint, while remaining competitive.

AFP/VNA/CVN

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