In 2015, New Zealand will become the first country in the world to introduce agriculture into its Emissions Trade Scheme. While the decision to include sheep and beef farming in emissions trading has been controversial, it demonstrates the New Zealand country’s commitment to improving sustainability and environmental performance.
Beef and Lamb New Zealand (B+LNZ)’s regional manager in Brussels, Dave Harrison, says that sustainability is important to New Zealand on a number of levels. “At one end of the spectrum, New Zealanders take great pride in their spectacular natural environment, and continued access to clean waterways, diverse wildlife and so on plays an important role in the New Zealand way of life,” he explains. “At the other end of the spectrum, as a nation whose wealth is built on the export of high-quality food, New Zealand needs to be able to demonstrate the environmental credentials that consumers now expect from quality food producers.”
With a considerable noise made over food miles in recent years, New Zealand has had to work hard to ensure it is staying ahead of the game when it comes to environmental performance. In order to help the industry improve, B+LNZ invests farmer levies into a range of collaborative projects to develop sustainable farming methods and has produced a Land and Environment Toolkit to help farmers understand and manage environmental issues on their farms. The levy body is also involved in the Pastoral Greenhouse Gas Research Consortium (PGgRc), which works to develop practical mitigation measures for New Zealand farms. The PGgRc has successfully sequenced the genetic information of the microbes responsible for the production of methane emissions in the digestive systems of ruminant animals – a discovery that should help accelerate work towards reducing methane emissions through vaccine and pharmo-medical interventions.
So far, it seems the investment into improving sustainability is paying off. Between 1990 and 2008, greenhouse gas emissions from New Zealand’s combined sheep and beef sector decreased by 14% through productivity gains and there was a reduction of 3.12mt of carbon equivalent a year.
With great strides being made towards reducing emissions, it has been important for the industry to analyse the carbon footprints of New Zealand beef and lamb exports throughout their production life cycles, in order to demonstrate to export markets that New Zealand produce can compete with domestically produced meat when it comes environmental performance.
In 2010, the New Zealand Meat Industry Association (MIA) released a report calculating the carbon footprint of a serving of New Zealand lamb consumed in the UK. Accounting for all emissions from ‘cradle to consumption’, the study calculated a footprint of 1.9kg CO2-equivalent per 100g serving. Although it is difficult to compare this with domestically grown lamb in the absence of a globally-agreed methodology for carbon-footprinting, the study is a valuable resource for the New Zealand meat industry.
Interestingly, the study found that 80% of the emissions were generated by farmers and their livestock on-farm, with just 5% from transport. This suggests that New Zealand can continue to reduce its carbon footprint, despite the long distances its product travels to reach export markets.
“The real value of this kind of work lies not in the ‘number’ at the end of the calculation, but in the fact the process of calculation helps to identify opportunities for improvement, and to reduce emissions at various points across a product’s life-cycle,” says Harrison.
Currently, it is difficult to compare the carbon footprint of New Zealand lamb with that produced in the UK, because there is no globally-agreed methodology for carbon-footprinting. “At present, a number of organisations have developed their own carbon footprint for lamb production, but these studies are often not comparable, because they operate under different assumptions, or only calculate emissions to a certain point in the supply chain,” Harrison explains.
To this end, B+LNZ is working alongside levy bodies in the UK (Eblex, QMS, HCC and LMCNI), Ireland (Bord Bía) and France (Interbev) to standardise carbon calculation methodologies for lamb production. “An accepted standard methodology will allow a meaningful comparison of performance, enabling those involved in the lamb supply chain to draw on experience and best-practice from wherever in the world it resides, to improve the overall greenhouse gas performance of lamb as a global food category,” says Harrison.