20th March 2024

Innovation and Genetics: A Sustainable Pathway

By Jilly Duncan Grant, QMS Board Member

One billion people around the world face protein deficiency, a crisis set to worsen as the global population expands and the demand for high-quality protein rises. In Central Africa and South Asia, 30% of children suffer from severe protein deficiency. Here, in the UK recent research published by the Guardian suggests a 39% increase in nutrition and protein energy malnutrition (PEM - a childhood disorder primarily caused by deficiency of energy, protein, and micronutrients) related hospital admissions; with iron deficiency having doubled and vitamin B12 deficiency tripled over the last decade. To combat this challenge, we must enhance the production of safe and affordable protein to nourish our communities. Fortunately, a promising solution is emerging — a blend of technology, sustainability practices and advanced genetics that is revolutionising the beef and dairy industries.

As a QMS board member, I understand the importance of supporting Scottish agriculture to become more economically, socially, and environmentally sustainable. QMS is at the forefront of this transformation, focusing on three strategic pillars: Provenance; Productivity & Profitability; and Planet & Place. At the core of these pillars lies a commitment to people and sustainability. In the context of global meat markets and QMS's ambition to compete, we recognise that evolution is not enough; transformation must be a driving force in our industry.

One of QMS’s game-changer initiatives is the Scotch Performance and Genetic Traceability project. Drawing inspiration from innovative initiatives worldwide, particularly the groundbreaking genotyping programme for Irish cattle, we see a blueprint emerging toward a sustainable future for Scottish beef production.

On 31 May 2023, Ireland’s Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Charlie McConalogue T.D., announced funding for a world-first genotyping program for Irish cattle, demonstrating a strategic public-private partnership model. Genotyping involves creating a DNA bank from tissue samples of breeding cattle, providing 100% traceability at the DNA level. The genetic data collected is analysed to identify crucial traits, such as disease resistance, milk or meat production and fertility.

This Irish genotyping programme, managed by the Irish Cattle Breeding Federation (ICBF), represents a significant step towards enhancing the genetic merit of the national bovine herd. The five-year project is exchequer-funded with a €23 million allocation for year one, through the Brexit Adjustment Reserve. Subsequent four-year funding will follow as a cost-sharing model between the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM), industry and participating farmers.

Research by Teagasc and the ICBF highlights the economic and environmental benefits of higher genetic merit herds. Beyond economic sustainability, genotyping the national herd offers unique selling points in traceability for international trade and certainty in dairy beef calf quality. This initiative serves as an inspiration and practical model for Scotland to bolster its competitive edge in the global agricultural landscape.

As we witness the convergence of technology, sustainability and advanced genetics in the beef and dairy industries, it is essential for Scottish agriculture to embrace these advancements. The Irish genetic project stands as a testament to the transformative collaborative power of such initiatives, providing a blueprint for Scotland to follow and ensure a sustainable, economically viable, and socially responsible future for its beef industry and beyond.

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