Red meat and climate change: A bonanza for low-GHG food marketers

Posted by AFN Staff Writers on 10th October 2018

GOING vegetarian won’t save the planet from catastrophic climate change but reducing greenhouse gas emissions from livestock production is a bankable marketing angle for plant-based foods, and just another reason to avoid red meat.

This week’s report from the world’s main climate change body calls for “rapid, far reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society” to achieve the transformation required to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees C above pre-industrial levels

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) says agriculture accounts for 14 per cent of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions globally, 10 per is from livestock alone. Those figures are mirrored in Australia.

A shift in diet towards less meat was described in the IPCC summary for policy makers as the need for “healthy consumption patterns”, “responsible consumption” and “sustainable diets”.

The report clearly says that behaviour and lifestyle are important elements of the feasibility of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees.

“There are also elements related to diet,” said one of the author scientists in a press conference while releasing the report.

Low-GHG food

The IPCC report says “low GHG-intensive food consumption” has the best synergies and the lowest number of trade-offs with respect to sustainable development and reducing emissions.

“Options in the land sector comprise agricultural and forest options, sustainable diets and reduced food waste, soil sequestration, livestock and manure management, reduced deforestation, afforestation and reforestation, as well as responsible sourcing,” the report says.

Separate to the IPCC, reports say a vegan diet may make as much as a 20 per cent difference to someone’s overall carbon impact, so cutting out or even reducing meat intake could have significant environmental benefits.

Richard Eckard though is a professor and director of the Primary Industries Climate Challenges Centre at the University of Melbourne. He also sits on science advisory panels for the Australian, New Zealand and UK governments on climate change research in agriculture.

He says farmers need to be helped to continue livestock production.

“Reducing the amount of red meat in your diet will reduce your personal greenhouse gas footprint,” Professor Eckard said.

“But you have to remember it will reduce your footprint by about the same as getting out of our four-wheel-drive and getting into a renewable energy car.

“Or getting out of your car into public transport or putting solar panels on your roof.

“Diet moderation is part of a bigger package. There will need to be a step up and it’s probably unfair to put that onto the farmer right now.

“What we in research have to do is give them the options to reduce their fertiliser use or reduce their losses of nitrogen fertiliser and give them the options to profitably continue livestock production,” he told ABC radio today.

Perhaps a little late to the fight, Australia’s cattle industry only last year committed to reducing its emissions by 45 per cent to be carbon neutral by 2030.

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