Thursday, 15 August 2013

Retracing the Footprints of our Livestock

Post written by H. Griffin

Carbon footprinting has become commonplace these days. Go online and you’ll find articles about the footprint of just about anything – your diet, your travel and even your pets. There are also various calculators available that can figure out the totality of your own personal footprint, if that’s what you so desire.
Footprinting is done for many agricultural products. It enables us to compare and contrast across different countries as well as among products.

AgResearch has put together various footprint studies on New Zealand produce, such as lamb and beef. These studies are important in strengthening our understanding of where emissions could be decreased along the supply chain.

But what actually goes into putting the numbers together?

AgResearch uses a “Life Cycle Assessment” approach, examining greenhouse gas emissions from production to consumption. At each stage of this chain, they assess each component that contributes to emissions. For example, in terms of on-farm beef emissions this means looking at natural processes of cattle consuming pasture as well as fertiliser, electricity and fuel use.

For beef, the total GHG footprint AgResearch calculated was 2.2kg CO2-equivalents for a 100g portion. Broken into segments, this equated to 90.3% for the on-farm stage, 2.1% for meat processing, 4.2% for transportation, and 3.3% for the consumption phase.

Their beef footprint study also outlines next steps for emissions improvements for the industry. Recommendations range from increasing productivity and tree-planting at the farm level to reducing the speed of shipping vessels.

On-farm emissions contribute by far the largest portion of the pie. Natural processes are the main source of these emissions and are the most challenging to mitigate. With the first petri dish grown beef burger eaten just over a week ago, there is a possibility that someday in the distant future we’ll be able to cut on-farm emissions altogether!

In the meantime we can work on minimising emissions where possible. This means taking the opportunities available in every phase from production to consumption. As consumption accounts for 3.3% of beef’s footprint, our behaviour can also play a role in minimising the footprint of what we consume. As consumers we can do things such as reducing food wastage in our homes.

We can also take responsibility for the footprint of our diet. As explored in a previous blog, a shift towards less red meat intensive diets could play a role in this.