Skip to main content

The Australian red meat sector could be carbon neutral by 2030

Posted by: CSIRO WordPress

November 27, 2017

Research and marketing group Meat and Livestock Australia says the Australian red meat industry could be carbon neutral by 2030.

The Australia red meat sector is important, producing 3% of the world’s beef and 8% of lamb and mutton. In 2017, Australia was the third largest beef exporter in the world. The red meat sector makes an important contribution to the Australian economy: with a value of AUD$16.3 billion, and employing around 200,000 people.

However, red meat and the environment have a complicated and emotional relationship. A study by CSIRO in 2015 found cattle and sheep produced almost 70% of Australian agriculture’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Managing director of Meat and Livestock Australia, Richard Norton, said the red meat sector could be carbon neutral by 2030 during his address at the Meat and Livestock Australia annual general meeting in Alice Springs on Wednesday 22 November 2017.

“With industry commitment, the right policy settings and new investment in research, development and adoption, the Australian red meat industry can be carbon neutral by 2030”  Mr Norton said.

“And we can be the first red meat exporting nation to do so.” Mr Norton said.

This follows work that we, the CSIRO Global Food and Nutrition Security group, have done in the past 12 months, funded by Meat and Livestock Australia, to identify ways that the industry could become carbon neutral.

Our carbon neutral red meat project, led by Di Mayberry and with analytical support by Harriet Bartlett involved:

  • Collaboration with the Australian Department of the Environment and Energy to establish the 2005 industry baseline in alignment with Federal Government emission baselines
  • Establishing contributions from pasture beef, sheep, feedlot and processing sectors to overall industry greenhouse gas emissions
  • The assumption of national herd numbers of 28 million cattle, 70 million sheep and 0.5 million goats (10-year averages)
  • Exploring options to reduce emissions from livestock and land use (e.g. deforestation and savanna burning management) and sequester carbon (mostly trees, but also dung beetles)
  • Identification of pathways based on various combinations of these practices to achieve carbon neutrality by 2030
  • Determining what research, development and adoption is needed for the industry to achieve this target, along with associated financial returns in productivity gains and potential carbon credits

Mr Norton told ABC Rural that the reduction target was set to prove farming red meat can be environmentally sustainable.

“The livestock industry has reduced its emissions by two-thirds over the last decade. So where the livestock industry was touted as [contributing] 25% of total emissions, that’s down now closer to 10%.” Mr Norton said.

According to Meat and Livestock Australia, potential strategies for reaching the target will include offsetting emissions with carbon farming, genetic selection and a potential vaccine to reduce methane production. Expanding the use of legumes and dung beetles in pastures could also be used to offset emissions.