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Why carbon neutral red meat is good meat

Since 2005, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from beef, lamb and goats have fallen by 53%.  By 2030, The Australian red meat industry’s goal is to ensure there is no net release of GHG emissions from Australian red meat production.

This is all part of the red meat industry’s target to be carbon neutral by 2030 (CN30).

Since 2005, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from beef, lamb and goats have fallen by over 53%. By 2030, The Australian red meat industry’s goal is to ensure there is no net release of GHG emissions from Australian red meat production.

This is all part of the red meat and livestock industry’s target to be carbon neutral by 2030 (CN30). CN30 means producing Australian red meat will make no net release of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions into the atmosphere by 2030, as measured by the Australian Government’s National Greenhouse Gas Inventory (NGHGI).

This will be achieved by reducing emissions from grazing management, lot feeding and processing, and increasing carbon storage in soils and vegetation.

The Industry’s efforts to reduce net emissions are making a substantial contribution to Australia’s international commitments on climate change with farmers – like Stuart Austin and Trisha Crowley – continuing to lead the world in environmentally sustainable red meat production.

 

"We are massively climate positive."

 

How does the red meat industry contribute to GHG emissions?

As ruminant animals, cows and sheep produce methane (a greenhouse gas) – mostly by burping

This methane is part of a natural, or biogenic, carbon cycle where the methane breaks down into carbon dioxide (CO2) and water after about 12 years. The grass then absorbs the CO2 through photosynthesis, cows eat the grass and the cycle continues. With stable livestock numbers, the amount of methane produced actually balances the methane that breaks down from the atmosphere.

The natural cycle between cows, plants and the atmosphere takes place over a relatively short period of time, whereas the CO2 from burning fossil fuels can stay in the atmosphere for 1000 years. That means fossil fuels have a much more significant and long-term impact on our climate than the methane from cows.

The animation below shows how the environmental impact of methane emissions from cows is fundamentally different to the CO2 from fossil fuels.

 

 

How is emissions reduction possible?

CN30 is possible thanks to innovative technologies and practices, such as improved genetics, new types of livestock feeds and grazing management practices that reduce the amount of methane produced per animal, the amount of methane produced by ruminants in Australia is expected to be cut dramatically by 2030.

The other part of the puzzle is being able to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere using vegetation and store carbon in Australia’s vast grazing lands. The goal is to have 15 million tonnes of carbon dioxide removed from the atmosphere each year, and stored as carbon within 10 million hectares of Australian grazing land by 2025

Other initiatives include using dung beetles to recycle nutrients from livestock dung (or manure) to improve vegetation growth and help accelerate carbon storage in the soil.

The end result will be a carbon-neutral, completely natural cycle that looks like this:

cn30-diagram.png

What’s the industry doing to reduce GHG emissions?

The CN30 Roadmap sets out how Australian farmers and others in the red meat industry will proactively address emissions and become a global leader in sustainable food production. The initiatives include:

  • Improvements in feeding practices (better pastures, new types of food, more grains)
  • Improved ways of handling manure
  • Improved genetics and animal management
  • Storing carbon in the land
  • Using high quality feed to improve productivity and reduce emissions.

Other initiatives include using dung beetles to recycle nutrients in pastures and help store carbon in the soil. Carbon sequestration from these ecosystem engineers could be equivalent to carbon sequestration from 400,000 hectares of eucalypt plantation.

Excited progress has been made to date. As well as GHG emissions falling by 53.22 % since 2005, improvements are continuing to be made across our farms, feedlots and processers.

Did you know?

  • The red meat industry is only responsible for 10% of GHG emissions in Australia, far less than sectors like electricity generation (33%) and transport (18%) (source). 
  • Lamb production is already climate neutral.
  • Natural feed additives such as red seaweed can significantly reduce methane emissions from cattle. In a recent study, cattle that ate Asparagopsis produced up to 90% less methane (source).