Beef must stop ignoring its large CO2 footprint

Beef must stop ignoring its large CO2 footprint

Jon Wright at the 2010 NSW Beef Spectacular Feedback Trial mid-term field day at Teys, Jindalee Feedlot. He has tested 1400 bulls for feed efficiency and lower CO2 emissions.

Jon Wright at the 2010 NSW Beef Spectacular Feedback Trial mid-term field day at Teys, Jindalee Feedlot. He has tested 1400 bulls for feed efficiency and lower CO2 emissions.


Breeder/researcher questions whether industry will get on the front foot as far as carbon emission reduction in their cattle.


AS red meat totals 70 per cent of agriculture's carbon emissions, and 70pc of red meat is beef, when push comes to shove in the climate change quest for lower emissions the rest of agriculture could be completely ignored if it wasn't for beef.

Woodstock Blue-E beef stud producer Jon Wright says it's harsh, but agriculture would be a lot better off without beef.

"It's most evident to me the beef industry has to work out how to get a low carbon product on the shelves as cattle sit out in such an exposed situation," he said.

"That's a pretty hard thing to say, as I'm a beef producer, but I see an enormous amount of pressure coming, not only from the community, but from the rest of agriculture in relation to beef emissions and the beef industry's responsibilities.

"We shouldn't forget the lean meat campaign days."

For Mr Wright, the difficulty is the time frame for this, and that's what people are grappling with.

"But not so much for our industry as it's just chugging along as if nothing is, or will happen," he said.

"Industry defenses have been to stop alternative products using the name, meat, and also concentrating on the activists rather than finding solutions.

"Others want to get more education out to the community to make them appreciate farmers.

"So, the best defense in the whole thing is not believe in climate change, then you don't have to do anything. Just ignore it and keep doing what you do."

Mr Wright said the majority of people who believe in climate change can't actually do anything about it, but were asking what could they do.

"The universal cry seems to be use less electricity and access it from a renewable source, drive less, fly less and eat less red meat, all big emitters. The easiest thing is to change your diet and to stop eating beef for environmental reasons."

Mr Wright said the worst of beef was produced at 150kg of CO2 equivalent per kilogram of product and the best was at 50kg-60kg.

"So, we've got to work out how to produce more of the 50 and 60 per kg," he said.

"And one tool is to use feed efficiency as a selection trait.

"It was said recently by CSIRO that the difference between an efficient animal and a poorly efficient animal as far as methane's concerned is 25pc to 30pc for producing the same kilogram of product.

"If you can reduce emissions by that amount it is pretty significant.

"However, the difficulty we have is that 90pc of emissions have already occurred by the time an animal gets to the feedlot and 95pc of emissions have occurred by the time it gets to the abattoir."

Mr Wright said the strongest correlation with methane production was feed intake, with 70pc of the feed consumed on-farm by the cow, not its progeny.

"I think feed efficiency and genetics are things we need to do to produce a low emissions product.

"They are not the best or most important, but just things we can do. It is a pretty easy communication, more efficient cattle produce less emissions - simple, just like a motor vehicle."

Climate risk for beef producers

Beef producers have two forms of risk as far as climate change is concerned, says Jon Wright of Blue-E, Woodstock.

"What is happening on their farms, and how the seasons are changing and how much that is going to affect their profitability," he said.

"The real concern for me is how will the demand for beef change in the next 10 years.

"Choices now are to keep eating beef, stop eating beef, eat alternatives to beef that look like and taste like beef. If we could put a fourth choice in there which is a lower emissions beef product we then start to satisfy people's need to do something about climate change, and still eat beef.

"We must take the issue seriously and genuinely work out how to produce low emission product... it is up to our industry leaders and politicians to stand up and lead the way."


Australia's red meat and livestock industry is leading the world in relation to sustainability and reducing emissions by setting the ambitious target of being carbon neutral by 2030 (CN30), according to Meat and Livestock Australia managing director, Jason Strong.

"With industry commitment, the right policy settings and new investment in research, development and adoption, the CN30 sets our industry on a positive path for the future.

"The CN30 initiative sends a clear signal to government and consumers that the red meat industry appreciates the concerns around climate change and is proactively addressing emissions, which reinforces our reputation as global leaders in sustainable red meat production.

"CSIRO research has shown it is possible to achieve carbon neutral goal - while maintaining animal numbers, combined with continued improvements in vegetation management, methods to reduce livestock methane emissions, and improve carbon storage in soils.

"For MLA, being Carbon Neutral has to be in the context of improved profitability, intergenerational business sustainability and leaving the environment in better shape than we found it.

"The red meat industry has already made big inroads, with emissions reduced by 57.6% since 2005 .

The red meat industry and the manufacturing sector are the only major sectors in the Australian economy to reduce emissions since 1990, with red meat making by far the greatest reduction."

To support this CN30 goal, MLA is investing in a number of areas to help industry to continue to reduce emissions and store carbon in the landscape.

"Some of these options can be acted on now such as improving animal genetics and husbandry practices to reduce emissions per unit of meat production, while other options require further R&D to validate their environmental and economic benefits for industry," Mr Strong said.


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