Welsh lamb and beef producers have the potential to be some of the most sustainable meat farming systems in the world, according to researchers.
A study from Bangor University found Welsh sheep and beef farms using non-intensive methods have among the lowest greenhouse gas emissions of comparable systems globally.
They measured carbon emissions released through the production of lamb and beef at 20 Welsh farms, as well as the carbon absorbed from the air through the land management techniques they used.
Researchers found that beef cattle was responsible for a net 11-16kg of CO2-equivalent emissions per kilo on average. Previous studies have suggested a global average of around 37kg of CO2-equivalent emissions per kilo.
Sheep and lambs at farms in the study were also associated with 10-13kg of CO2-equivalent emissions.
Dr Prysor Williams, senior lecturer in environmental management at Bangor University, said: “The Bangor University study uses the latest internationally approved methods to study the emissions and carbon sequestration, giving us a valuable insight into what Welsh farms are already doing well in terms of sustainability, and where further improvements can be made."
“The carbon footprints of many of these selected Welsh farms are amongst the lowest reported for other lamb and beef producing countries.”
Dr Williams recognised that there are difficulties in comparing studies due to differences in the methods to calculate the footprints but said that their “results indicate that Welsh lamb and beef producers have the potential to be some of the most sustainable farming systems globally.”
The research suggests that carbon sequestration - the process in which carbon dioxide is naturally absorbed from the atmosphere by soil, plants and trees - can be promoted by land management techniques and thus have a positive effect on net emissions.
Hill farms examined in the study had a lower than expected environmental impact.
This suggests that hilly and rainy locations like in Wales, where 81% of farmland is permanent grassland, are more sustainable habitats to produce meat.
Katie-Rose Davies, a Welsh beef and sheep farmer, said: “As the next generation of farmers, we want to make sure that the industry is sustainable long into the future.”
“That’s why we use traditional farming, grass and rainwater to rear animals to minimise pressure on natural resources, as well as special grazing techniques to encourage the habitat of rare species, such as Golden Plovers.”
“We also maintain a large area of peatland which is vital for carbon storage and one of the ways we contribute to mitigating climate change.”
Gwyn Howells, chief executive at Hybu Cig Cymru added: “The climate crisis we face is urgent in nature and global in scale.”
“The answer is not to stop eating red meat, but to choose sustainably produced lamb and beef.”
Saturday Kitchen host Matt Tebbutt also said that Welsh meat could be an attractive option for households with fewer mouths to feed at Christmas.
He said: “A piece of Welsh lamb or beef is a natural choice - it is sourced in the UK, it supports our farmers and now we know that each piece of red meat has a lower carbon footprint than we previously thought, provided it is reared on natural grassland in the traditional Welsh way.”