The New Zealand beef industry has made a study of its carbon footprint.

“We see this study as making a valuable contribution to the global livestock production story and we will be contributing the results of this study to the FAO [food and agriculture organisation] work programme on environmental performance of livestock food chains,” says Ben O’Brien, General Manager Market Access, with Beef + Lamb New Zealand.

Mr O’Brien said the New Zealand sheep and beef industry had made enormous progress in reducing its emissions during the last 20 years, mainly by producing more meat from less pasture.

“Compared to 1990, New Zealand sheep and beef farms now produce slightly more meat by weight, but from fewer animals,” he said.

Researchers estimate that this productivity improvement has reduced the carbon footprint of New Zealand beef and lamb by about 17% over that period, he said.

The study was funded by Beef + Lamb New Zealand, the Meat Industry Association, Ballance Agri-Nutrients and Landcorp, and the Ministry for Primary Industries greenhouse gas footprinting strategy. Much of the data for analysis was supplied by Beef + Lamb New Zealand.

The study has created a benchmark for understanding where greenhouse gas emissions are occurring across the supply chain, including production, processing, transportation and consumption, he said.

“Differences in the footprint are largely related to the value of the types of cuts that are exported to different markets and the method of allocating emissions on an economic basis.

“The majority (over 90%) of emissions occur on the farm.”

O’Brien says the footprint varies depending on the type of farm ( 7.2 to 14.3 kg CO2e per kg live-weight), the sex and age of animals (7.3kg young bull to 16.0kg breeding cows), and whether or not calves from the dairy industry are used.

Overall the weighted New Zealand average GHG emissions from beef animals from sheep & beef farms2 was 10.5 kg CO2e per kg live-weight.

The emissions arising from transport to market are extremely low. Oceanic shipping is very efficient and this study shows it contributes just 1.1 – 2.7% of the total carbon footprint.

Dr Stewart Ledgard, the lead author of the report, said that until there was a globally-agreed methodology for ‘footprinting’, it was hard to assess how New Zealand’s footprint compares to others.

“We’re not aware of overseas studies with a comparable scope or level of detail in the methodology,” he said.

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