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How will red meat be carbon neutral by 2030?

Australian red meat isn’t just good for your health, it’s also having a positive impact on the planet. Since 2017, we’ve been working towards the goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2030, and with the way things are going, we’re confident we’ll get there.

Carbon Neutral by 2030, or CN30, means that Australian beef, lamb and goat production, including lot feeding and meat processing, will make no net release of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions into the atmosphere by 2030. It’s a target that the CSIRO has said is achievable.

To support Aussie red meat in achieving CN30, the CN30 Roadmap was launched in 2020. It describes what a carbon neutral Australian red meat industry means and outlines the work that’s taking place to get us to this goal. While there’s investment in many areas, the two key activities that will help us achieve carbon neutrality are reducing GHG emissions and sequestering carbon to offset emissions. Let’s explore these ideas in more detail.

What’s the red meat industry doing to reduce GHG emissions? 

For the Australian red meat industry to achieve its CN30 target, reducing GHG emissions from grazing management, lot feeding and processing is a priority. This is largely centred on developing and adopting technologies that avoid carbon dioxide (CO2), nitrous oxide (N2O) and methane (CH4) emissions.

According to a study by the CSIRO, 78% of livestock emissions are from pasture‑raised beef, followed by 18% from sheepmeat, 4% from grainfed beef and <1% from goat meat. Most of these emissions occur when cattle, sheep and other ruminants emit methane (usually by burping!) as a natural part of their digestion process.

The industry is currently exploring new feed and supplements that reduce methane emissions, while also improving animal growth rates and reproduction. Legumes such as Leucaena and Desmanthus are a great food source as they not only improve growth rates but also reduce methane emissions whilst also offering additional soil health benefits by fixing nitrogen. And the marine macroalgae, Asparagopsis, has been shown to nearly eliminate methane emissions when incorporated into an animal’s diet. Learn more about the Asparagopsis feedlot feeding trial. Another additive, Bovaer® or 3-NOP, has also been shown to substantially reduce methane emissions when fed to livestock.

Other key activities include:

  • Animal genetics and husbandry practices (such as increasing overall herd/flock fertility and reducing the average age of animals) to increase efficiency and reduce methane emissions intensity (methane emitted/kg meat produced)
  • Improving herd and flock nutrition by introducing legumes and high-quality pasture species to reduce the time it takes for animals to achieve optimal weight
  • Equipment to capture and reuse methane from processing waste
  • Energy efficiency and renewable energy technology to reduce CO2 emissions from the use of fossil fuels
  • Equipment to reduce N2O and methane emissions from the management of manure in feedlots
  • Savanna burning management methods to avoid emissions of N2O and methane.
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What is carbon sequestration and how does it work? 

Increasing carbon storage in grazing lands is another way for the industry to achieve carbon neutrality. Carbon sequestration refers to capturing CO2 and storing it in the land or in vegetation through activities such as changing grazing patterns. Not only does carbon sequestration reduce CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere, it can also improve soil health and drought resilience, and improve water quality through reduced sediment run‑off into waterways.

The Australian red meat industry has a goal of removing 15 million tonnes of CO2 from the atmosphere each year and storing it as carbon within 10 million hectares of Australian grazing land by 2025. To reach this target, the industry is working towards increasing carbon storage by using:

  • Legumes and pastures to provide feed whilst storing carbon in the plant and within the soil
  • Dung beetles to improve carbon storage
  • Trees and shrubs to store carbon while also delivering animal health and biodiversity benefits
  • Methods to optimise carbon storage in dead woody biomass in grazing lands.

Farmers like Mark Wootton and Eve Kantor from Jigsaw Farms have already achieved carbon neutrality through carbon sequestration. Find out how they did it.

So, will red meat be carbon neutral by 2030?

The Australian Government’s National Greenhouse Gas Inventory (NGHGI) is responsible for reporting on Australia’s emissions annually, in keeping with its international GHG emissions reduction commitments. They release quarterly updates that provide a summary of Australia’s national emissions and demonstrate how Australia is tracking against its targets.

Using NGHGI’s measurements, CSIRO modelling has demonstrated that CN30 is a realistic and achievable goal, with many of the identified strategies already being adopted by the industry. In fact, since 2005, the Australian beef industry has more than halved its net GHG emissions, which is more than any other sector in Australia.

You can already buy carbon neutral beef and lamb, and this is set to become more commonplace as producers work to adapt their processes to meet the CN30 target.

In addition, by 2030, Australian red meat producers will be able to:

  • Select livestock with multiple attributes (such as naturally low methane production, improved feed efficiency and fertility) to increase productivity and reduce methane emissions per kilogram produced
  • Choose supplements, pastures, legumes and trees that enable livestock to Reduce emissions and increase weight gain
  • Access more established markets for low and zero carbon red meat and co-products.

It’s an exciting time for Australian red meat producers – and consumers – as we strive towards the goal of carbon neutral red meat. Using innovative technologies and grazing practices aimed at reducing emissions and storing carbon, we can be part of the solution to climate change and play a leading role in a cleaner, greener future.