BSAS blog by Elizabeth Magowan

Elizabeth Magowan

The British Society of Animal Science (BSAS) is a well respected, long established and inclusive organisation which champions and prides itself as the leading organisation in the UK for dissemination of livestock science to a broad range of stakeholders. BSAS also provides a safe and friendly forum for livestock scientists to interact, develop and maximise the impact of their work.

As such I am very honoured to be the current president of BSAS, following in the footsteps of many great leaders from across the UK’s livestock sector.

The theme I have chosen for the year, which will culminate in the annual conference in April 2024 in Belfast is ‘The role of livestock in our ecosystems and economy’.

The reason for this is that I am passionate that Livestock cannot be dismissed and a global reduction in livestock numbers will have far reaching unintended consequences for economies, human health as well as environmental health. It is therefore the role of science to provide the evidence as to what Livestock’s role can and should be in a future ‘nutrient neutral’ food system supporting a world of increasing biodiversity.

In considering how to drive nutrient neutrality, where our air and water quality is much improved we will need to produce livestock within more circular systems, extracting maximum value from all outputs. As we journey that road we also need to recognise and quantify better the important role of livestock within biodiverse ecosystems, rural economies and our culture. In our developed society we have the fortunate position to engage in activities which make us happy – have we ever stopped to think how many people’s mental health is better as a result of being able to work with or observe our livestock across our countryside. In developing countries livestock play a significant role in religion, trading and survival of many families. While we may dismiss these additional and difficult to measure attributes that livestock provide, they run very deep.

Ultimately, the key role of livestock is to provide our population with a nutritious product consumed in moderation alongside fruit, vegetables etc– i.e. to contribute to a balanced healthy diet. The Dublin Declaration of Scientists on the societal role of livestock and associated publications does a very good job at setting out good evidence with regard to the importance of Livestock and its products within society, especially for human health.

Furthermore, at the recent EAAP conference there were a number of excellent presentations and a key take home for me was that the demand for meat and milk globally is not expected to get less in the coming years.

While Livestock production absolutely needs to play a significant role in contributing to the net zero agenda in the UK, it is not expected to be net zero in its own right, and as noted above Livestock has other nutrients to manage as well, notably nitrogen and phosphorous which need to be addressed to support improvements in our air and water quality.

Overall this cumulates to an exciting time for livestock scientists. In the post war era in the UK the challenge was to increase production to feed a hungry population, and livestock science underpinned nutritional, managerial and genetic advances to achieve the world leading position we have today. Todays’ challenge in now to maintain that productivity at least, but in an environmentally friendly way. With the great news recently that we can once again play a full role in EU projects, I have every confidence that the UK livestock science sector will rise to the challenge to not only bring forward novel and world leading innovations to create a world leading environmentally friendly livestock production sector in the UK, but will also bring forward unique strategies to ensure the adoption of those strategies are effective, efficient and long lasting.