Carbon neutral: The red meat industry’s big, bold promise

T’s the Australian red meat industry’s big, bold promise to the world. To be carbon neutral by 2030. Through its own initiatives, offset its significant methane production – 129.3 million tonnes of CO2 equivalents – by the end of the decade.

But is what’s become known in the livestock industry as CN30 achievable?

According to the man in charge, Doug McNicholl from Meat and Livestock Australia, the short answer is yes. More importantly it can be achieved while maintaining animal numbers.

But the catch remains it will require an all-of-industry commitment plus the right policy settings and new investment in research, development and adoption.

Already a key focus of the Red Meat Advisory Council’s Red Meat 2030 industry plan, CN30 is being driven by the thinking the initiative will strengthen Australia’s reputation as a global leader in delivering high value, high quality sustainable production. Very importantly, CN30 will turn environmental criticism of the industry on its head.

But how can CN30 be achieved? The perhaps surprising answer is the implementation of CN30 is already well underway.

Mr McNicholl said the baseline year was 2005, which aligned with the Australian Government’s baseline year for reporting progress under international climate change agreements.

“Since 2005, the red meat industry has reduced GHG emissions by 57.6pc to 54.8 MTCO2e in 2016,” Mr McNicholl said. “Therefore, industry needs to reduce emissions by 54.8 MTCO2e and/or offset these emissions, by storing carbon in vegetation or soils, in order to achieve CN30.”

All up, 78pc of emissions come beef cattle on pasture. About half of those emissions are from cows greater than two years old. A total of 18pc of emissions are from sheep meat production, with 3-4pc from feedlot cattle and less than 1pc from goats.

The red meat industry’s proportion of national GHG emissions has reduced from 21.4pc in 2005 to 10.4pc in 2016, which means the industry’s contribution to national GHG emissions has reduced substantially.

Mr McNicholl said for producers CN30 was about producing more product with less methane emissions.

This would include strategies such as new feeds such as pastures, shrubs and legumes as well as supplements that reduced methane emissions, while improving animal growth rates and reproduction.

It would also involve a continual improvement in animal genetics and husbandry practices to increase production efficiency.

Grazing management practices that increased soil carbon, integrated trees and shrubs for improved carbon storage, and implemented savanna burning were also needed.

Mr McNicholl said new nutritional supplements including 3-nitrooxypropanol (NOP) and the red algae Asparagopsis taxiformis were very promising.

“Experts agree that inhibitors that almost eliminate enteric methane fermentation in feedlot cattle fed grain-based diets will be available by 2030,” he said.

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