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Study shows NZ beef and lamb among the world's most carbon efficient

The Country,
Publish Date
Wed, 9 Nov 2022, 2:17PM
AgResearch has been studying the carbon footprint of New Zealand beef and sheepmeat. File photo / Mark Mitchell

Study shows NZ beef and lamb among the world's most carbon efficient

The Country,
Publish Date
Wed, 9 Nov 2022, 2:17PM

New research has confirmed the carbon footprint of New Zealand beef and lamb is amongst the lowest in the world.

The comprehensive study by AgResearch has found that a kilo of New Zealand sheepmeat has a carbon footprint of just under 15 kilograms (kgs) of CO2 equivalent emissions per kilo.

Meanwhile, the carbon footprint of New Zealand beef is just under 22kgs – making the country’s red meat among the most efficient in the world.

The researchers, which compared New Zealand’s on-farm emissions to a range of countries’ footprints across the globe, concluded that when Kiwi beef or sheepmeat is exported, the total carbon footprint is lower or very similar to domestically-produced red meat in those nations.

They concluded that this is because New Zealand is so efficient at the farm level, which represents about 90-95 per cent of the total carbon footprint.

New Zealand’s on-farm footprint was about half the average of the other countries in the study.

The Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) study was commissioned by Beef + Lamb New Zealand (B+LNZ) and Meat Industry Association (MIA).

Based on the research, an analysis by B+LNZ and MIA shows eating red meat two to three times a week, over the course of an entire year, is just under the carbon footprint of a single passenger’s return flight from Auckland to Christchurch.

As the world’s second-biggest exporter of lamb and one of the largest beef exporters, sustainable farming is a critical part of the country’s red meat sector strategy.

The LCA was calculated using the standard GWP100 approach for converting methane to carbon dioxide equivalent to enable valid international comparisons.

AgResearch scientists also measured the carbon footprint of New Zealand beef and sheepmeat using an emerging approach known as GWP*, which determines a carbon footprint based on a product’s actual contribution to the warming of the planet over a period of time, rather than the total emissions.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has found that the traditional GWP100 method overstates the impact of methane when this gas is not increasing, as is the case in New Zealand.

The calculation using GWP* for the period 1998 to 2018 showed that when taking into account sequestration - trees and other vegetation on farms absorbing emissions - New Zealand’s sheepmeat is arguably “climate neutral” and New Zealand beef is also well on the way towards that.

According to this calculation, over the last 20 years, New Zealand sheepmeat has not added any additional warming.

Absolute greenhouse emissions from New Zealand sheep and beef farming had decreased by 30 per cent since 1990, B+LNZ chief executive Sam McIvor said.

McIvor said in a statement that the research “proved beyond doubt” that New Zealand beef and sheepmeat had one of the lightest carbon footprints for red meat in the world.

“There are a number of ways to calculate the climate impact of food products, but on any measure, New Zealand red meat is world-leading when compared to other major meat producers.”

The research showed consumers could feel confident that purchasing New Zealand red meat was good for them and the environment, MIA chief executive Sirma Karapeeva said.

“Consumers are not only seeking food that tastes good but they want robust assurances that it has been sustainably raised with a minimal environmental impact. This scientific study shows New Zealand beef and sheepmeat fits the bill perfectly.”

Lead study researcher at AgResearch, Dr Stewart Ledgard, said accurately measuring and reporting the environmental impact of products had “never been more critical” for a sustainable future.

“LCA analyses the full life cycle of a product including transport and consumption and is an effective and important tool to help the world understand a carbon footprint and minimise our impact on the environment.

“New Zealand has a good story to tell in terms of the traditional methodology.”

Ledgard said The United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) was currently looking at GWP* and whether it could be used in carbon footprints.

“Although the FAO has noted that the GWP* method is useful, it also has limitations in that it just compares a point in time for whether new warming has been added, and ongoing warming is also relevant.”

McIvor said that while the use of GWP* in Life Cycle Assessment studies seemed “new and novel,” it was slowly becoming mainstream science elsewhere.

“We wanted to do this to demonstrate the difference between the gases and the importance of focusing on warming in order to build an understanding of the science.”

Although the research showed Kiwi sheep and beef farmers were among the most efficient in the world, continuous improvement was still required, McIvor said.

For example, the AgResearch GWP* LCA looked at how much additional warming had been produced per kilo of beef or sheepmeat over the past decades, he said.

“It shows that sheep and beef farmers have done a great job over the last 20-30 years, but we acknowledge our ongoing warming and that we arguably still need to do more.”

McIvor said the methane reduction targets in the Zero Carbon Bill were still “too high,” despite New Zealand recognising that methane was a short-lived gas, and only needed to reduce, rather than go to zero.

“The research builds understanding about the GWP* science and supports the sector with its call for the Government to reduce the methane targets and start reporting annually on warming as well as emissions.

“Our farmers remain committed to making a contribution to achieving scientifically-justified emissions targets in order to keep a lid on global temperature rises, but this needs to be fair, based on science and reflect reality.”

B+LNZ was urging Ministers and officials to use GWP* to reassess the methane targets, McIvor said.

A summary of the report can be found here.

Read the full report here.

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