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How red meat is becoming part of the climate solution

With lamb production already climate neutral and beef production taking giant steps in the same direction, the entire red meat industry is set to be carbon neutral by 2030 (CN30).

CN30 means the Australian red meat and livestock industry 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). The Australian red meat industry is working towards this by reducing methane emissions through innovative technologies and practices , such as improved genetics, new types of livestock feeds and grazing management.

The industry is proud to be one of the first industries on the planet to set such an ambitious target, and it’s already making progress to achieve it. The Australian Red Meat Industry’s Carbon Neutral by 2030 (CN30) Roadmap sets out how the industry will proactively address emissions and become a global leader in sustainable food production.

Can the red meat industry help address global warming?

Yes. Cattle, sheep and other ruminants naturally produce the greenhouse gas methane as part of a natural, or biogenic, carbon cycle. Unlike other sources of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions that continue to build over centuries, such as carbon dioxide (CO2) from burning fossil fuels, methane from ruminants – or biogenic methane – is broken down in the atmosphere within 12 years .

So…if the population of ruminants used to produce red meat remains the same over a 12 year period, which is largely the case in Australia, no additional contribution to global warming occurs.

According to researchers from the University of California, the production of beef and sheep meat in Australia at current levels will not contribute to global temperature rise. With stable livestock numbers, the amount of methane produced actually balances the methane that breaks down from the atmosphere.

Additionally, as productivity of Australian livestock continues to improve through use of innovation technologies and practices, the industry will be able to feed even more people without contributing further to global temperature rise.

Overall, the red meat industry contributes only 11.8% of GHG emissions – well behind sectors like energy and transport. The largest emitters are electricity generation (33%), stationary energy (20%) and transport (18%).

 

So is it environmentally sustainable to eat red meat?

Research has shown that with the adoption of CN30’s production and waste-management strategies, eating red meat in line with the Australian Dietary Guidelines is sustainable.

The Australian Beef Sustainability Framework and the world’s first Sheep Sustainability Framework are just two of the industry-led initiatives that are helping red meat producers implement sustainable practices.

Sustainable practices include:

  • Choosing pastures that require less fertiliser
  • Planting native vegetation to encourage biodiversity
  • Rotating stock from paddock to paddock (rotational grazing) to allow the land and the pastures to rest
  • Capturing biogas from waste streams to generate electricity
  • Recycling water for non-potable uses such as washing cattle and trucks.

In addition, the CSIRO has recommendations for what every individual can to reduce our diet’s environmental impact:

  1. Know your serving size and stick to it
  2. Follow the Australian Dietary Guidelines
  3. Reduce food waste and only buy as many groceries as you need.

Did you know?

The natural carbon cycle
How can livestock be a part of the climate solution?

The natural carbon cycle

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

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