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The latest campaign by Australian Youth Climate Coalition (AYCC) maintains the group’s almost complete lack of interest in the massive contribution of animal agriculture to: (a) climate change; and (b) destruction of Great Barrier Reef corals.

The latest campaign

Title: “For the love of the reef

The campaign is being run in conjunction with an AYCC branch known as SEED, which describes itself as “Australia’s first Indigenous youth climate network”.

Related campaign

Title: “The 3 degree challenge

While also focusing on the Great Barrier Reef, the page highlights the impact of increasing global temperature on the production of sugar, wheat and meat.

The idea

For the main “for the love of the reef” campaign, AYCC is asking participants to go without something they enjoy for around two weeks. They have specified coffee, chocolate or avocado, seemingly assuming that people like at least one of those items.

Participants ask others to donate funds in recognition of their sacrifice. The funds are intended to assist AYCC’s reef campaigns.

For a supposedly more difficult challenge (presumably involving higher donations), participants can take “the 3 degree challenge”, in which they go without all three of the specified products.

Some history

AYCC ran a similar campaign in early 2016, with the title “For the love of our future”. Like this year’s campaign, it was run in conjunction with the “3 degree challenge”. On the challenge website (like this year), AYCC bemoaned the impact of climate change on beef production, completely ignoring the massive impact of that industry on climate change and the Great Barrier Reef.

In response to me highlighting the irony of their position, they added the words: “Going without meat for 2 weeks can also have a big impact in reducing your carbon footprint, as meat production contributes to global warming.”

Bizarrely, they retained the comment expressing concern over the impact of climate change on beef production.

I find it interesting that they seemed to assume that participants were regular meat eaters.

The current position

This year, AYCC has added another comment to its “3 degree challenge” page under the heading “A note on animal agriculture”. That note exemplifies AYCC’s failure to disclose critical information, as referred to below.

AYCC’s professed knowledge of animal agriculture’s impacts is limited to methane emissions

If I were to walk down the street and ask people to tell me what they knew about animal agriculture’s impact on global warming, most who responded may focus on one word: METHANE

That’s what AYCC has done on its “3 degree challenge” page.

Its only reference to livestock production’s negative impacts, in a campaign that addresses climate change and the destruction of corals, relates to methane, when the relevant factors are far more extensive than that single greenhouse gas.

That’s from a group whose reason for existence is to lead “solutions to the climate crisis”!

Such an approach is particularly concerning on a website focusing on the Great Barrier Reef, when many additional factors destroy corals or cause them to be less resilient than they would otherwise have been to the impacts of warming waters.

What is AYCC failing to disclose?

The issues have been covered extensively in articles on this site, including (in relation to land clearing and the reef) “Meat Eaters vs the Great Barrier Reef” and “Beef, the reef and rugby: We have a problem“. Here are some key points.

1.  Climate Change

Livestock’s climate change impacts arise from many inter-related factors, such as:

(a) its inherent inefficiency as a food source;

(b) the massive scale of the industry;

(c) resultant land clearing far beyond what would otherwise be required to satisfy our nutritional requirements;

(d) greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide; and

(e) other warming agents such as tropospheric ozone (derived from precursors such as volatile organic compounds and carbon monoxide) and black carbon.

It is important to note that official figures under-report animal agriculture’s overall and proportional emissions because relevant factors are: (a) omitted entirely, e.g. tropospheric ozone; (b) classified under different headings, e.g. livestock-related land clearing reported within the category “land use, land use change and forestry” (LULUCF); and (c) considered but with conservative calculations, e.g. methane’s impact based on a 100-year, rather than 20-year, basis for determining its “global warming potential” (GWP).

As acknowledged by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the choice of GWP time horizon is a value judgement. The shorter time horizon is critical in the context of climate change tipping points, beyond which we can lose any chance of influencing the climate system in a positive manner.

The land clearing is a double-edged sword, as it releases carbon in the form of CO2 from soil and vegetation, while reducing the biosphere’s ability to draw existing CO2 from the atmosphere.

In Queensland alone, livestock-related land clearing since 1988 (when detailed records began) has represented 91 per cent of total land clearing. It has equated to more than 11 million rugby fields at rates of 42 per hour overall and 50 per hour in 2015/16. For American readers, that equates to 17.5 million American football fields at rates of 71 per hour overall and 79 per hour in 2015/16. This chart shows the full record:

Here’s a short video from The Wilderness Society, showing land clearing on a northern Queensland cattle station in 2014 using two bulldozers connected by a huge chain. This widely-used method was introduced in the 1950s, with devastating consequences.

Reducing fossil fuel usage (which is AYCC’s focus) is an essential measure in our efforts to overcome climate change. However, even if we were to optimistically assume that global efforts in that regard will increase markedly from current levels, it would not be enough on its own.

Another double-edged sword in the battle against climate change can be found in the fact that reducing fossil fuel usage results in lower concentrations of atmospheric aerosols, the existence of which has a cooling effect (referred to as global dimming). In an effort to reduce the increase in temperature that would result from a reduction in aerosols, and to reduce temperatures from their present levels, we must draw down carbon as rapidly as possible through reforestation and other measures. We must also prevent further deforestation. We will not adequately address those issues without a general transition away from animals as a food source.

Methane and various other warming agents mentioned here have much shorter life spans than CO2. As a result, appropriate action will provide rapid benefits. That is critical in terms of global dimming and climate change tipping points. (AYCC’s “challenge” page fails dismally in relation to the timing issues.)

2. Great Barrier Reef

Like most climate change campaign groups that comment on the loss of coral reefs, AYCC focuses on the issue of coral bleaching caused by warming waters. Although that is a critical issue, other critical factors were affecting the reef’s corals decades before the first major bleaching event in 1998, and their destructive force continues.

They are tropical cyclones and predation by crown-of-thorns starfish (COTS). As demonstrated in the following chart, 57 per cent of coral loss on the Great Barrier Reef had occurred by 1985, thirteen years before the first major bleaching event.

Dr Jon Brodie from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, James Cook University, has reported that COTS were likely to have been the main cause between 1960 and 1985.

Dr Glenn De’ath and colleagues from the Australian Institute of Marine Science and Wollongong University have allocated causation between 1985 and 2012 as: cyclones 48 per cent; COTS 42 per cent; and bleaching 10%.

Like fossil fuel usage, animal agriculture contributes to warming waters and cyclone intensity through its significant global warming impact.

It also has other significant impacts on the reef.

Erosion caused by grazing on cleared and uncleared lands has released sediment, nitrogen and phosphorous to the reef’s waters via nearby streams and rivers. The sediment blocks the sun and smothers coral, making it less resilient than it would otherwise have been to the impacts of other stressors, such as warming waters.

The fertilisers promote algal growth that is a food source for crown-of-thorns starfish larvae. Adult starfish eat nothing but coral, and have had a devastating impact. They were doing so decades before the first coral bleaching event in 1998, and the destruction is continuing.

The Queensland government’s 2013 Scientific Consensus Statement reported that livestock grazing was responsible for 75 per cent of sediment, 54 per cent of phosphorous and 40 per cent of nitrogen in the Great Barrier Reef’s waters.

Here’s an example of gully erosion initiated by cattle grazing on a property in northern Queensland.

© Griffith University – Andrew Brooks

Conclusion

AYCC and other climate change campaign groups are wasting their time if they ignore the impacts of animal agriculture on the climate and the Great Barrier Reef.

We face an emergency in respect of each issue, with action on animal agriculture representing a relatively fast, low-cost means of helping us to reach critical targets.

It must be included in our efforts if we are to have any chance of overcoming the climate crisis and saving natural wonders such as the reef.

Author

Paul Mahony

Sources

Australian Youth Climate Coalition, “For the love of the reef”, https://fortheloveof.org.au/

Australian Youth Climate Coalition, “3 Degree Challenge”, https://fortheloveof.org.au/page/3-degree-challenge

Myhre, G., Shindell, D., Bréon, F.-M., Collins, W., Fuglestvedt, J., Huang, J., Koch, D., Lamarque, J.-F., Lee, D., Mendoza, B., Nakajima, T., Robock, A., Stephens, G., Takemura, T., and Zhang, H., 2013: “Anthropogenic and Natural Radiative Forcing. In: Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group 1 to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change” , pp. 711-712 [Stocker, T.F., D. Qin, G.-K. Plattner, M. Tignor, S.K. Allen, J. Boschung, A. Nauels, Y. Xia, V. Bex and P.M. Midgley (eds.)]. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA, http://www.ipcc.ch/report/ar5/wg1/

Brodie, J., “Great Barrier Reef dying beneath its crown of thorns”, The Conversation, 16th April, 2012, http://theconversation.com/great-barrier-reef-dying-beneath-its-crown-of-thorns-6383

De’ath, G., Katharina Fabricius, K.E., Sweatman, H., Puotinen, M., “The 27–year decline of coral cover on the Great Barrier Reef and its causes”, PNAS 2012 109 (44) 17995-17999; published ahead of print October 1, 2012, doi:10.1073/pnas.1208909109, http://www.pnas.org/citmgr?gca=pnas%3B109%2F44%2F17995

Stella, J., Pears, R., Wachenfeld, D., “Interim Report: 2016 Coral Bleaching Event on the Great Barrier Reef”, Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, September 2016, http://elibrary.gbrmpa.gov.au/jspui/bitstream/11017/3044/5/Interim%20report%20on%202016%20coral%20bleaching%20event%20in%20GBRMP.pdf

Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, Reef Health, 29 May 2017, http://www.gbrmpa.gov.au/media-room/reef-health

Professor Terry Hughes on Twitter, 21st May 2017

Kroon, F., Turner, R., Smith, R., Warne, M., Hunter, H., Bartley, R., Wilkinson, S., Lewis, S., Waters, D., Caroll, C., 2013 “Scientific Consensus Statement: Sources of sediment, nutrients, pesticides and other pollutants in the Great Barrier Reef Catchment”, Ch. 4, p. 12, The State of Queensland, Reef Water Quality Protection Plan Secretariat, July, 2013, http://www.reefplan.qld.gov.au/about/scientific-consensus-statement/sources-of-pollutants.aspx

Images

Wonderful and beautiful underwater world with corals and tropical fish © Brian Kinney | Shutterstock

Football Field © Lucadp | Dreamstime.com

Cow flat icon © RaulAlmu | Shutterstock | ID: 516517108

Gully Erosion © Andrew Brooks, Griffith University

Video

The Wilderness Society | Land Clearing, Olive Vale, Qld, 2014 | https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Uc06o7ayx-g

The New South Wales government’s Office of Environment and Heritage has just announced the winners of its 2017 Green Globe Awards, which are supposedly designed to “showcase people and projects making real progress toward sustainability” across the state.

This is the conservative government that passed legislation in 2016 to repeal the Native Vegetation Act, with a large increase in land clearing inevitable, involving increased carbon emissions, loss of ongoing sequestration and destruction of wildlife habitat. The repeal took effect in August this year.

It was in anticipation of such law changes in NSW and Queensland (and the livestock-related clearing that would result) that the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF) listed eastern Australia as one of eleven global deforestation fronts for the twenty years to 2030.

With the NSW government’s shameful track record on land clearing, it was not surprising to see it name Youth Food Movement Australia (YFM) and one of its co-founders, Alexandra Iljadica, as finalists in the categories of Community Leadership and Sustainability Champion, with Iljadica winning the latter.

The main driver of land clearing in Australia and around the world is livestock production. In Queensland alone, livestock-related clearing since 1988 (when detailed records began) has represented 91 per cent of total clearing. It has equated to more than 11 million rugby fields at rates of 42 per hour overall and 50 per hour in 2015/16.

Despite that appalling record, YFM supports the sector and has failed miserably to highlight its negative environmental and other impacts.

Cattle grazing on cleared and uncleared land in Queensland has also contributed massively to the ongoing demise of the Great Barrier Reef’s corals. Erosion caused by grazing has released sediment, nitrogen and phosphorous to the reef’s waters. The sediment blocks the sun and smothers coral, making it less resilient than it would otherwise have been to the impacts of other stressors, such as warming waters. [Footnote 1]

The fertilisers promote algal growth that is a food source for crown-of-thorns starfish larvae. Adult starfish eat nothing but coral, and have had a devastating impact. They were doing so decades before the first coral bleaching event in 1998, and the destruction is continuing.

As I have reported previously, YFM has collaborated with Meat & Livestock Australia (MLA) via its Target 100 “initiative” on some very questionable projects. A key output from one of those was what appeared to be an MLA promotional video, laughably described by the two organisations as a “documentary”. The video featured Iljadica’s fellow YFM co-founder, Joanna Baker. [Footnote 2]

Joanna Baker (left) and Alexandra Iljadica, YFM Australia

MLA is no mug in the PR game, and has won advertising industry awards such as Marketing Team of the Year and Advertiser of the Year. It has utilised  firms with expertise in PR, branding or advertising, such as: Republic of Everyone; Totem; One Green Bean; BMF; and The Monkeys, and prefers the term “community engagement” over “PR”.

The promotional concepts have included “Bettertarian”; “#Goodmeat”; “You’re better on beef”; “Generation Lamb”; “The beef oracle”; “The Opponent”; and Australia Day campaigns such as “Richie’s BBQ” and “Boat People”.

Is it a coincidence that Republic of Everyone was also nominated for a Green Globe Award? In addition to the “Bettertarian” campaign (launched by MLA as a “counter campaign” during Meat Free Week), its work for MLA has included graphics proclaiming the supposed health benefits of eating red meat. The evidence to the contrary is overwhelming.

That’s from a firm that claims to only create projects “that make the world a better place”, where “everything is fair” and where no animals are “harmed in the making”.

Why doesn’t it tell people that forced breeding, tail docking, castration and hot iron branding (all without pain prevention or relief) are all routine aspects of beef production?

Why doesn’t it tell people about the true environmental and health impacts of the industry?

Why doesn’t YFM do the same?

MLA prefers to provide primary school children with so-called “curriculum study guides”, containing erroneous information about its members’ products.

Another YFM link with the livestock sector involves Dairy Connect, a group based in New South Wales, which describes itself as “an advocacy body, 100% focused on being the voice for all partners in the dairy industry”.

During most of 2014 and 2015, Joanna Baker was Dairy Connect’s manager for membership, communications and policy. While in that role, she was also in senior positions with YFM.

I am not in a position to explain the motivation behind the collaborations and relationships mentioned here, but I do wonder if the Green Globes are effectively nothing more than straw man awards, with some straw man nominees.

Author

Paul Mahony

Footnotes

  1. The Queensland government’s 2013 Scientific Consensus Statement reported that livestock grazing was responsible for 75% of sediment, 54% of phosporous and 40% of nitrogen in the Great Barrier Reef’s waters.
  2. In addition to MLA, the Target 100 “initiative” involves Cattle Council of Australia, Sheepmeat Council of Australia, Australian Meat Industry Council, Australian Lot Feeders Association and Australian Meat Processing Corporation. MLA maintains copyright over the Target 100 website, and some material (e.g. the so-called “curriculum study guides”) has been released under MLA’s name.

Images

Paul Looyen | A herd of cattle in pasture, standing in early morning fog | Shutterstock

Zo Zhou | Guerrilla Dinner 2013 | Flickr | Creative Commons NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Update

Footnote 2 added 23 October 2017 with minor text amendments.

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I have recently become aware of social media discussions supporting misleading interpretations of the 2016 study “Carrying capacity of U.S. agricultural land: Ten diet scenarios” by Peters, et al., which was published in the journal Elementa: Science of the Anthropocene.

As I reported in my article, “Livestock chief gets it wrong on the vegan diet“, the purpose of the study was to compare, firstly, per capita land requirements and secondly, potential carrying capacity as measured by the number of people fed.

The study found that the vegan diet (which excludes all animal products) was the most efficient of the ten diet scenarios studied, in that it required the least amount of land per person fed. It was also extremely effective in terms of the overall number fed.

The study’s key findings are summarised in this chart:

Figure 1: Carrying capacity of US agricultural land: Ten diet scenarios

An article from August 2016 on the Quartz website focused on the fact that four of the ten diet scenarios could feed more people than the vegan diet. But at what cost in terms of human health, planetary health, biodiversity loss and impacts on food production animals themselves?

The author of the Quartz article, Chase Purdy, lost his way when he used the finding regarding carrying capacity to question the sustainability of the vegan diet scenario.

In any event, why isn’t the reported ability of the vegan diet scenario to feed 2.4 times the 2010 US population considered adequate? How many more people do we want in the US? Even the best performing scenario on that score was only marginally ahead of the vegan diet, at 2.6 times the population.

To their credit, the authors of the original study raised the possibility of the US sharing excess food production with other nations, noting that future work would be required to determine the best way of doing so.

Their findings indicate that the three diets that excluded meat were between 7.5 and 8.3 times more efficient (in terms of land area per person fed), and between 1.8 and 2 times more effective (in terms of number of persons fed), than the contemporary US diet. They were at least 77% more efficient than the best-performing diet containing meat.

My “livestock chief gets it wrong” article referred to an article by the director general of the International Livestock Research Institute, Dr Jimmy Smith in The Guardian. Although the authors of the Elementa study reported that the vegan diet required the least amount of land (per person fed and in absolute terms) out of ten alternative dietary scenarios, Smith erroneously claimed that the researchers had found that the it fell behind certain other diets (including some containing meat) on that measure. It seems The Guardian needs to vet material from guest contributors more closely, as Smith’s effort was very poor.

Conclusion

The Elementa study once again highlighted the ability of the vegan diet scenario to efficiently supply our dietary needs. It is time for more people to review the available evidence objectively, as our ability to overcome climate change and other existential threats may depend on it.

Author

Paul Mahony

References

Smith, J., “Veganism is not the key to sustainable development – natural resources are vital”, The Guardian, 16th August 2016, https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2016/aug/16/veganism-not-key-sustainable-development-natural-resources-jimmy-smith

Purdy, C., “Being vegan isn’t as good for humanity as you think”, Quartz, 4th August 2016, https://qz.com/749443/being-vegan-isnt-as-environmentally-friendly-as-you-think/

Peters, C.J., Picardy, J., Darrouzet-Nardi, A.F., Wilkins, J.L., Griffin, T.S., Fick, G.W., “Carrying capacity of U.S. agricultural land: Ten diet scenarios”, Elementa, July 2016, https://www.elementascience.org/articles/10.12952/journal.elementa.000116/

Image

Indigo Skies Photography | Panorama | Flickr | Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Updates

Minor additional comments added on 21st September 2017, and the third and fourth last paragraphs added on 22nd September 2017, along with a sentence concerning the overall number of people fed.

 

 

I recently created a two-page infographic containing charts and images I had used in various articles and papers. The infographic highlights the following issues:

  • Livestock-related land clearing in Australia
  • Livestock production’s impact on the Great Barrier Reef
  • Greenhouse gas emissions intensity of animal-based foods
  • Livestock production’s share of Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions
  • The relative nutritional value of plant-based and animal-based foods

The infographic can be seen and downloaded here:

Related articles

Meat Eaters vs the Great Barrier Reef

Beef, the reef and rugby: We have a problem

Eating for a safe climate: Protein and other nutrients

Less Meat Less Heat: Falling short of what’s required

Author

Paul Mahony

The City of Darebin (pronounced Darr-e-bin) encompasses various suburbs to the north of Melbourne, from Northcote to Bundoora and from Coburg to Alphington. It recently invited community feedback to its draft climate emergency plan for the period 2017-2022.

If you are interested in seeing my response, it can be accessed by clicking the image below. This version contains a supplement with additional comments on pig meat, poultry, fish, egg and dairy products.

The city’s draft plan covered the following topics:

  1. Climate Emergency mobilisation and leadership
  2. Energy efficiency
  3. Renewable energy and fuel switching
  4. Zero emissions transport
  5. Waste minimisation
  6. Fossil fuel divestment
  7. Adaptation and resilience
  8. Engaging the community
  9. Darebin Energy Foundation

A glaring omission from my point of view was the issue of food choices.

I covered the following issues in my response:

  1. Food-related emissions
  2. Land clearing
  3. The Great Barrier Reef
  4. Links between climate change and the consumption of sea animals
  5. Health and nutrition
  6. Social justice
  7. Engaging with the community and advocating to state and federal governments

In relation to food-related emissions, my submission included the latest emissions intensity estimates for beef from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). Figure 1 below compares the beef figures to those for aluminium (regarded as extremely emissions intensive and at one stage responsible for 16 per cent of Australia’s electricity consumption with a lower tonnage than beef production) and soy beans (as reported by researchers from Oxford University). [1] [2] [3] [4]

The figures have been updated from estimates the FAO published in 2013, which utilised a 2005 reference period and an earlier version of its Global Livestock Environmental Assessment Model (GLEAM 1.0). [5]

The FAO’s latest reference period is 2010, using its updated model, GLEAM 2.0.

It used the IPCC’s 2013 100-year global warming potentials (GWPs), and I have calculated 20-year GWPs for the chart, using IPCC estimates and the FAO’s apportionment of the various greenhouse gases for each product. (The IPCC’s 20-year GWPs are more conservative than estimates from NASA researchers, who have allowed for aerosol interactions.) [6]

Figure 1: Emissions intensity of various products based on product weight (2010 reference period for animal-based products) [Footnote]

A pleasing aspect of responding to the city’s plan was pointing out that some high-profile, mainstream climate scientists have stressed the need to address the issue of animal-based food consumption. Here are some relevant extracts:

EXTRACT 1:

“In a 2013 paper, [James] Hansen and co-authors argued that it was feasible to draw down 100 gigatonnes of carbon through reforestation between 2031 and 2080. They noted: (a) because of extensive deforestation in earlier decades, there is a large amount of land suitable for reforestation; and (b) although reforestation competes with agricultural land use; land needs could decline by reducing use of animal products, as livestock now consume more than half of all crops.” [7]

EXTRACT 2:

“[Hansen, et al.] estimated a maximum sequestration potential of 1.6 gigatonnes of carbon per year through reforestation. With a conversion factor of 3.67, the estimate equates to around 5.9 gigatonnes of CO2 per year.

That exceeds the annual drawdown target of 5 gigatonnes of CO2 established in a “carbon law” articulated by a group of leading climate scientists in early 2017, which they indicated would provide a 50 per cent chance of limiting global warming to 1.5°C by 2100 and a 66 per cent chance of limiting it to 2°C.

The authors (Johan Rockström, Owen Gaffney, Joeri Rogelj, Malte Meinshausen, Nebojsa Nakicenovic and Hans Joachim Schellnhuber) stated:

‘Agro-industries, farms, and civil society should develop a worldwide strategy for sustainable food systems to drive healthier, low-meat diets and reduce food waste.'” [8]

Another important aspect of the exercise is that the City of Darebin intends to actively engage with state and federal governments in relation to its aims. It has said, “a key part of our program is to take action to accelerate the process of getting these governments to declare a climate emergency and commit to programs of the necessary scope, scale and speed”.

Such action will provide additional leverage for the plan, including any feedback incorporated in the final version.

Conclusion

With no time to waste if we are to have any chance of overcoming the climate crisis, it is imperative that we use all tools at our disposal in our efforts to do so. The issue of food consumption and production offers one such tool, with some elements providing rapid benefits that would increase our chances of avoiding tipping points and runaway climate change.

I trust the City of Darebin includes the issue in the final version of its emergency plan, ultimately improving our ability to respond to the existential threat of climate change.

Author

Paul Mahony

Footnote

The chart appeared as Figure 2 in the submission.

References

[1]      UNFAO email correspondence of 21st April, 2nd May and 27th June 2017

[2]      Australian Aluminium Council Ltd, “Climate Change: Aluminium Smelting Greenhouse Performance”, http://aluminium.org.au/climate-change/smelting-greenhouse-performance

[3]     Hamilton, C, “Scorcher: The Dirty Politics of Climate Change”, (2007) Black Inc Agenda, p. 40

[4]     Scarborough, P., Appleby, P.N., Mizdrak, A., Briggs, A.D.M., Travis, R.C., Bradbury, K.E., & Key, T.J., “Dietary greenhouse gas emissions of meat-eaters, fish-eaters, vegetarians and vegans in the UK”, Climatic Change, DOI 10.1007/s10584-014-1169-1

[5]      Gerber, P.J., Steinfeld, H., Henderson, B., Mottet, A., Opio, C., Dijkman, J., Falcucci, A. & Tempio, G., 2013, “Tackling climate change through livestock – A global assessment of emissions and mitigation opportunities”, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), Rome, Table 5, p. 24, http://www.fao.org/ag/againfo/resources/en/publications/tackling_climate_change/index.htm ; http://www.fao.org/docrep/018/i3437e/i3437e.pdf

[6]      Shindell, D.T.; Faluvegi, G.; Koch, D.M.; Schmidt, G.A.; Unger, N.; Bauer, S.E. “Improved Attribution of Climate Forcing to Emissions”, Science, 30 October 2009; Vol. 326 no. 5953 pp. 716-718; DOI: 10.1126/science.1174760, http://www.sciencemag.org/content/326/5953/716.figures-only

[7]      Hansen J, Kharecha P, Sato M, Masson-Delmotte V, Ackerman F, Beerling DJ, et al. (2013) Assessing “Dangerous Climate Change”: Required Reduction of Carbon Emissions to Protect Young People, Future Generations and Nature. PLoS ONE 8(12): e81648. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0081648

[8]      Rockström, J., O. Gaffney. J. Rogelj, M. Meinshausen, N. Nakicenovic, and H.J. Schellnhuber (2017) “A roadmap for rapid decarbonization”, Science 355: 1269-127, http://science.sciencemag.org/content/355/6331/1269.full and http://www.rescuethatfrog.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/Rockstrom-et-al-2017.pdf cited in Dunlop, I. and Spratt, D., “Disaster Alley: Climate Change Conflict and Risk, June 2017, https://www.breakthroughonline.org.au/disasteralley

Main image

Henry Patton | Active moulin | Flickr | Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

It appears we may be witnessing the tragic demise of one of the world’s natural wonders, the Great Barrier Reef (GBR). The process has justifiably been covered extensively by media outlets around the world, with much of the coverage focusing on coral bleaching, primarily caused by warming seas. However, has that been the main cause of coral loss?

It may surprise some to find that, until the past two years at least, the answer had been a resounding “no”. This article comments on the other causes. It also asks why environmental groups who campaign vigorously against the use of fossil fuels have said nothing meaningful about those other factors.

A major contributing factor has been erosion from livestock grazing (including related tree clearing), which releases sediment and nutrients (nitrogen and phosphorous) to the GBR waters via nearby streams and rivers. The sediment inhibits coral growth and promotes the excessive development of algae, while the nutrients contribute to outbreaks of crown-of-thorns starfish, which have had a devastating impact.

Before considering those issues in detail, let’s look at the extent to which live coral cover on the reef has declined.

EXTENT OF LIVE CORAL COVER

Let’s take the 1960s as the baseline period. Professor Jon Brodie from the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University has reported that coral covered around 50 per cent of the reef at that time, compared to around 16 per cent in 2012. [1] The change represented a decline in coral extent of 68 per cent.

Estimates vary, and soon after Professor Brodie’s figure was published, Dr Glenn De’ath and fellow researchers from the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) and the University of Wollongong estimated that the extent of coral cover around the same time was only 13.8 per cent, representing a decline of 72.4 per cent (again assuming 50 per cent as the base coverage extent). [2]

The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) has estimated a minimum figure of 17 per cent, followed by some recovery between 2012 and 2015, with an increase to 20 per cent. [3] On that basis, the decline from the 1960’s to 2012 (assuming that was the minimum) would have been 66 per cent, and to 2015, 60 per cent.

Two mass bleaching events in 2016 and 2017, along with other factors as referred to below, have caused further declines in live coral cover. In mid-2016, the GBRMPA’s interim assessment of the 2016 bleaching event indicated that 22 per cent of coral had died. It has since increased the estimate to 29 per cent. [4]

Although the latter figure related to shallow water corals, the authority  has said:

“Coral bleaching did extend to deeper corals beyond depths divers typically survey to, but mortality cannot be systematically assessed. . . . In 2017, further coral loss is expected from the second consecutive year of bleaching and the impacts of tropical cyclone Debbie. . . . A complete picture for 2017 won’t be available until early next year.”

Professor Terry Hughes, Director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, indicated on 21st May 2017 that the figure for 2017 is 19 per cent. [5] [Footnote 1]

If we assume that the figure of 29 per cent for 2016 applied to all GBR corals, and that the figure of 19 per cent for 2017 will be confirmed, the current extent of live coral cover (before allowing for declines caused by other factors over the past two years) would be around 11.5 per cent.

It seems reasonable to assume that estimates of percentage reductions are based on the extent of coverage that existed at the beginning of the period being assessed. If so, they are calculated on what has generally been a declining base.

On that basis, the decline from bleaching in 2016 and 2017 (to date) would equate to 17 per cent of the 1960s coverage, which is far less than indicated in much of the relevant media coverage, which indicated that around half had been lost. [6] The figures are represented in Figure 1. [Footnote 2]

The total reduction for the period from the 1960s to 2017, as represented here, is 77 per cent, with coverage of 11.5 per cent (2017) as a proportion of 50 per cent (1960s) being 23 per cent. [See update of 9 July 2017 below, along with more details on the causes in the following sections.]

Figure 1(a): Percentage of Coral Cover 1960s – 2017 (updated 25 July 2017)

Figure 1(b): Pre and Post 1985 Coral Loss (added 25 July 2017)

Coral-loss-pie-chart-terrastendo

Ominous warnings have been issued in the recent past, including the following comment from AIMS and University of Wollongong researchers in 2012, as referred to earlier:

” . . . coral cover on the GBR is consistently declining, and without intervention, it will likely fall to 5–10 per cent within the next 10 years.”

 

CAUSES OF CORAL DECLINE

In researching the causes of coral decline between 1985 and 2012, Dr Glenn De’ath and his co-authors (referred to earlier) assessed the relative contributions of tropical cyclones, crown-of-thorns starfish (COTS) and coral bleaching. Their results are shown in Figure 2.

Figure 2: Causes of GBR coral decline 1985 – 2012

In a profound indication of the relative impact of COTS predation, the researchers estimated that there would have been a net increase in average coral cover if such predation had not occurred, rather than their estimated reduction of 50.7 per cent.

Findings from Kate Osborne and fellow AIMS researchers in 2011 indicated there was no overall loss for the period 1995-2009, with loss in some areas and species offset by expansion in others. [7] However, in respect of those corals that did decline, they reported COTS as the major cause at 36.7 per cent compared to cyclones at 33.8 per cent, disease at 6.5 per cent, bleaching at 5.6 per cent, with the remainder comprising multiple or unknown causes.

Jon Brodie reported in 2012 that COTS were probably the major cause of coral mortality in the period from 1960 to 1985, but pointed out that available data for the period was incomplete. [8]

Water quality has also been a major factor, as it affects the frequency of COTS outbreaks in the central and southern GBR.

CORAL BLEACHING

Many types of coral have a symbiotic relationship with marine algae known as zooxanthellae that live inside their tissue. The zooxanthellae are efficient food producers that provide up to 90 per cent of the energy corals require to grow and reproduce. They also give coral much of its colour. [9] [10]

When the relationship becomes stressed due to factors such as ocean temperature or pollution, the zooxanthellae leave the coral’s tissue. Without the zooxanthellae, the tissue of the coral animal appears transparent and its bright white skeleton is revealed.

Without the zooxanthellae as a food source, corals generally begin to starve.

If conditions return to normal, corals can regain their zooxanthellae, return to their normal colour and survive. However, this stress is likely to cause decreased coral growth and reproduction, and increased susceptibility to disease. Bleached corals often die if the stress persists.

Rising sea temperature is the main cause of coral bleaching. Other stressors can also contribute to it but generally to a smaller extent. They include: tropical cyclones; freshwater inflows from flooding events (with low salinity); sedimentation; pollution from urban or agricultural run-off; over-exposure to sunlight; and disease. [11] [12]

Major bleaching events have occurred on the GBR in 1998, 2002, 2016 and 2017.

Reefs can often recover from such events if given enough time, but two in quick succession in 2016 and 2017 may have caused permanent loss of large sections of the reef. The images in Figure 3, from the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, highlight the degree of impact of those two events.

Figure 3: Coral Bleaching Events 2016 and 2017

There is no doubt that coral bleaching is a critical, perhaps catastrophic, issue. Although De’ath et. al. highlighted the need to improve water quality and develop relevant control measures, they stressed that such measures would only succeed if climatic conditions were stabilised, as losses from bleaching and cyclones will otherwise increase.

As a result, given the lack of meaningful response from so-called world leaders to the climate change threat, and taking into account the impact of other stressors that have destroyed much of the reef and weakened the resilience of much of the remaining coral, we may have lost the opportunity to save the reef. [13]

CROWN-OF-THORNS STARFISH (COTS)

COTS are marine invertebrates that occur naturally on reefs throughout the Indo-Pacific region, feeding exclusively on coral. Certain conditions enable them to reach plague proportions and devastate hard coral communities.

Figure 4: Crown-of-thorns starfish devouring coral off northern Queensland

Crown-of-Thorns Starfish (Acanthaster planci), Lizard Island

Crown-of-Thorns Starfish (Acanthaster planci), Lizard Island (Ryan McMinds, Flickr)

 

The long-term monitoring program conducted by AIMS has shown that outbreaks have begun in the north and migrated southward, generally over periods of around 15 years, with ocean currents transporting larvae between reefs. There have been four major outbreaks on the Great Barrier Reef since the 1960s: in that decade itself; the late 1970s; the early 1990s; and 2010 (which is still under way). [14]

De’ath et. al. have reported that COTS were likely to have occurred every 50-80 years before European agricultural nutrient runoff commenced.

Healthy reefs generally recover between outbreaks, taking 10 to 20 years to do so. However, recovery takes longer on reefs that are affected by additional stresses, such as coral bleaching, cyclones or poor water quality, so the coral may not fully recover before the next wave of outbreaks occurs. [15]

Jon Brodie has stated “it is now well established” that the major COTS outbreaks since 1962 were most likely caused by nutrient enrichment associated with increased discharge of nitrogen and phosphorus from the land due to soil erosion and large scale fertiliser use. The nutrients promote phytoplankton growth suitable to COTS larvae. [16]

The impact of livestock production within the reef’s catchment area is particularly relevant to the water quality issue (including sediment and nutrient discharge), as referred to later in this article.

Fishing also appears to be a major factor in relation to COTS outbreaks. In the mid-shelf region of the GBR, where most outbreaks occur, the frequency of outbreaks as of 2008 on reefs that were open to fishing had been 3.75 times higher than on those where it was prohibited. Although exploited fish species are unlikely to prey on COTS directly, changes in interactions between species at different positions in the food web may be the cause. [17]

These short videos from AIMS and Stanford University help us to better appreciate the extent of the COTS problem. The Stanford researchers state (with my underline):

“Low numbers of this starfish increase reef diversity, but large numbers can destroy reefs. Avoiding human activities that increase starfish numbers is more effective than trying to control Crown-of-Thorns outbreaks once they happen.”

Video 1: Australian Institute of Marine Science (Duration 1:23):

Video 2: Standford University (Duration 2:29)

Figure 5 shows the location, severity and areal extent of COTS outbreaks between 1982 and 2015. [18]

Figure 5: COTS outbreaks 1982 – 2015 (Animation)

THE IMPACT OF LIVESTOCK PRODUCTION

AIMS has highlighted the fact that deterioration in coastal water quality has negatively affected the function, productivity and resilience of tropical marine ecosystems.

They have reported that the main coastal and marine water quality issues in northern Australia are: (a) increasing sediment, nutrients and contaminants entering coastal waters in runoff from agricultural, industrial and urban land uses (increasing five to nine fold from pre-European settlement); and (b) rising seawater temperatures and increasing seawater acidity associated with climate change. [19]

Livestock production within the reef’s catchment has been a major factor in the release of sediment and nutrients. Eroded material, including nutrients, enters streams and rivers and is then carried to the coast, and from there to the Great Barrier Reef.

The Queensland Government’s 2013 Scientific Consensus Statement confirmed that grazing landscapes, primarily in the Fitzroy and Burdekin catchments, were responsible for 75 per cent of sediment, 54 per cent of phosphorous and 40 per cent of nitrogen in the reef’s waters. [20]

The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority has expressed its concern: [21]

“Most sediment entering the Great Barrier Reef comes from catchments in major pastoral areas such as the Burdekin, Herbert and Fitzroy rivers.”

“Changes in water quality affect the biodiversity and resilience of Reef systems. Higher concentrations of pollutants, such as suspended sediments, nitrogen and phosphorus, indicated by higher levels of chlorophyll and lower water clarity, leader [sic] to more algae and less coral diversity. In these conditions, algae take over and reduce the chances for new hard corals to establish and grow.”

Queensland has been Australia’s main beef production state since around 1885. [22] Trees have been extensively cleared to establish grazing areas, with the level of activity increasing after World War 2 when the technique of dragging a massive chain, linked to two bulldozers, was introduced. (The Wilderness Society has credited the innovation to a young Joh Bjelke-Petersen, who eventually became Queensland’s longest-serving premier.)

For many decades, farmers were required to clear the land as a condition of their government lease, with economic development being the driver. [23]

The Queensland government’s State Landcover and Trees Study (SLATS) has shown that, between 1988 and 2015, 90,340 square kilometres of land were cleared or re-cleared for pasture in Queensland, which is equivalent to nearly 11 million rugby fields (or nearly 17 million American football fields), with the process accelerating in recent years after a partial ban on broadscale clearing was lifted in 2013. [24] [25] [Footnote 3]

It is also equivalent to a tract of land 10 kilometres (6 miles) wide running between Melbourne and Cairns nearly four times!

Figure 6: Livestock-related land clearing in Queensland 1988-2015 expressed as 10 km-wide tracts of land equivalent on Australian continent (Arrow width not to scale)

For more context, it is also equivalent to a 10 kilometre wide tract of land running 2.3 times between Los Angeles and New York.

Figure 7: Livestock-related land clearing in Queensland 1988-2015 expressed as 10 km-wide tracts of land equivalent on contiguous states of USA (Arrow width not to scale)

A deleterious outcome of livestock-related land clearing and livestock grazing in cleared and uncleared areas is gully erosion.

The Victorian government has highlighted the role of those activities in gully erosion generally (with my underline): [26]

“Under natural conditions, run-off is moderated by vegetation which generally holds the soil together, protecting it from excessive run-off and direct rainfall.

Excessive clearing, inappropriate land use and compaction of the soil caused by grazing often means the soil is left exposed and unable to absorb excess water. Surface run-off then increases and concentrates in drainage lines, allowing gully erosion to develop in susceptible areas.”

Soils with dispersible subsoils are very common in Queensland and are vulnerable to gully erosion when the shallow layer of relatively stable top soil is disturbed. As water penetrates through early-stage erosion (referred to as rill erosion up to 30 centimetres deep), the subsoil is dispersed, leaving the topsoil unsupported. The topsoil then collapses and the process is repeated.

From that stage, even with little or no surface flow, the gully walls can become saturated, causing them to slump and the gully to expand. The Queensland government has likened the process at that point to digging a hole to the depth of the water table at the beach, with the hole expanding as the sides slump away. [27]

The underlying rock will often limit gully depth to around two metres, but they can be as deep as fifteen metres in alluvial and colluvial soils.

Figure 8: Gully erosion on cattle property in northern Queensland

gully_erosion

© Griffith University – Andrew Brooks

 

The following video provides several examples of grazing-related gully erosion in Queensland’s Fitzroy Basin, which has caused massive amounts of sediment to flow to the GBR. Mitigation efforts are highlighted, but to a large extent the damage has been done and is continuing in other areas, with potential to expand elsewhere as more land is cleared for cattle.

The Queensland government’s most recent Reef Water Quality Protection Plan report card scored graziers’ response to the calamity a “D” for “poor”. [28]

In any event, it is estimated that expenditure ranging from $5.3 billion to $18.4 billion (most likely $7.8 billion) would be required to reduce sediment flow by 50 per cent, which is a target established under the Australian and Queensland governments’ Reef 2050 Long-Term Sustainability Plan. [29]

Video 3: Gully erosion in the Fitzroy Basin (Duration 11.55)

Stream bank erosion has also significantly increased sediment discharge to the reef. Here are some thoughts from the Queensland government on that issue (with my underline): [30]

“The major cause of stream bank erosion is the destruction of vegetation on river banks (generally by clearing, overgrazing, cultivation, vehicle traffic up and down banks or fire) and the removal of sand and gravel from the stream bed.”

In commenting on the need to improve water quality, journalist Calla Walqhuist recently indicated in The Guardian that Jon Brodie had recommended a shift from sugar cane production in the reef’s catchment to cattle grazing. [31]

She neglected to say that it is only in the areas where sugarcane is grown that beef grazing would have little impact. Erosion is low in those areas due to high rainfall and extensive vegetation cover, with minimal use of fertilisers and pesticides. Cattle grazing on the large, low rangelands in the Burdekin and Fitzroy catchments, with variable rainfall, is responsible for greatly increased erosion and sediment delivery to the GBR. [32]

Professor Brodie has previously reported that cattle grazing for beef production is the largest single land use in the reef’s catchment area, with cropping (mainly of sugarcane) and urban/residential development “considerably less in areal extent”. [33] As a result, the scope for transitioning from sugarcane production to cattle grazing may be limited.

KEY ENVIRONMENTAL GROUPS EFFECTIVELY IGNORE THE LIVESTOCK ISSUE

The following slideshow includes: Adam Bandt of The Greens political party; Kirsty Albion of Australian Youth Climate Coalition (AYCC); Paul Sinclair of Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF); Charlie Wood of 350.org; and Tim Flannery of Climate Council Australia. [Footnote 4]

What do these people have in common?

 

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One answer is that their organisations have all campaigned to save the Great Barrier Reef from the ravages of climate change and the related activities of coal mining, dredging and shipping, but have ignored or understated: (a) livestock production’s direct reef impacts; and/or (b) livestock production’s climate change impacts. The Greens’ statement on protecting the reef is an example. [34]

To the extent the groups have mentioned COTS outbreaks and water quality issues, they appear to have avoided commenting on the contribution of diet, which is ultimately responsible for livestock production within the reef’s catchment.

How can they and their organisations justify their assumed roles as defenders of the environment, while effectively choosing to ignore such a critical contributor to the ongoing environmental catastrophe?

It is ironic that Tim Flannery implores us to “start talking about the reef”, including around the dinner table, but fails to meaningfully highlight the role of diet in its demise. [35]

I have previously highlighted links between the livestock sector and ACF, AYCC, Climate Council Australia and others. The links include the fact that ACF’s high-tech headquarters in inner Melbourne, in which AYCC and a Greens member of the Victorian parliament are tenants, were donated to it by livestock interests. [36] I am not in a position to comment on the links (details of which are publicly available), other than to say they exist.

Other scientists are ahead of the pack on this issue, leaving Flannery and his Climate Council colleagues in their wake.

Professor Terry Hughes (referred to earlier) and co-authors of a paper that appeared in the June 2017 issue of Nature, have pointed out that scientists have often ignored human behaviour as the ultimate driver of environmental change. [37] For example, they may focus on pollution or climate change, without acknowledging that factors such as human population growth, socio-economic development, and culture and values are the ultimate cause.

Hughes and his co-authors have argued that governments, non-government organisations and social movements “can actively encourage changes in social norms that lead to improved environmental behaviours” through the use of taxes, incentives, subsidies, education and communication. Governments and the groups mentioned here are failing miserably in that regard.

In Australia, criticising the traditional meat-based barbecue may be considered a form of heresy, despite meat consumption being a key factor in the destruction of a global treasure and critical economic asset in the form of the GBR. Indeed, even without climate change, the reef’s demise may have been assured due to decades of relentless sediment and nutrient pollution from grazing and other properties within the reef’s catchment.

Using the phrase “death by a thousand cuts”, the authors also highlighted the need to consider the interaction between multiple factors contributing to the deterioration of coral reefs. They referred to models indicating that “synergistic human impacts can reduce resilience and cause unexpected ecological collapse, even when individual drivers or stressors remain at levels that are considered to be safe”.

Even if we focus solely on climate change, the livestock sector is a key driver. For example, researchers from the Sustainable Society Institute at the University of Melbourne and climate change advocacy group Beyond Zero Emissions (BZE) have estimated that the livestock sector is responsible for around fifty per cent of Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions. [38] The findings were reinforced in a subsequent peer-reviewed journal article, which had two co-authors in common with the BZE paper. [39]

The authors focused on factors that are ignored, under-stated or attributed to non-livestock categories in the national greenhouse gas inventory.

BEEF vs TOURISM

Two-thirds of Australia’s beef was exported in 2012-2013, with the figure likely to have grown since then due to an expansion of the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement (ChAFTA).  [40] [41] As a result, modification of diet by the nation’s residents will not be enough to adequately reduce beef production’s negative impacts.

At present, the environmental cost of beef production is not adequately allowed for in the price paid by the end user. Consequently, beef producers are effectively subsidised, while consumers in Australia, China and elsewhere are paying artificially low prices with no effective price signal encouraging them to purchase products with less environmental impact.

The words of CSIRO researcher, Dr Barney Foran, come to mind: [42]

“We should be paying more for products that have a high environmental account balance. The consumer should be expected to pay a realistic price for food so that we play a part in fixing up the bush, instead of sitting in town and wringing our hands about it.”

The current, low-price arrangements may soon come at the expense of the tourism industry as the GBR deteriorates further. In Queensland alone, the industry generates revenues of nearly $23 billion and supports nearly 220,000 jobs directly and indirectly. With 42 per cent of international visitors ranking the reef as the most appealing tourist attraction in Australia, it is also a significant factor in the tourism industry nationally, for which the corresponding figures are $98 billion and 922,000. [43] [44] [45]

By comparison, the beef industry generated less than $18 billion in revenues nationally in 2015/16 (less than tourism in Queensland alone), including $10 billion of exports, with 200,000 people employed (also less than tourism in Queensland), including on-farm production, processing and retail. [46]

CONCLUSION

To the extent that we have any chance of saving the Great Barrier Reef, it is critical that prominent individuals and groups campaigning for that purpose communicate honestly about the factors that are contributing to its parlous state. If it is too late to save it, then we must ask how and why those individuals and groups have failed to address key issues.

It may be easy to feign concern and diligence while conveniently overlooking essential contributing factors, but such abrogation of responsibility will undoubtedly result in catastrophic outcomes unless others can successfully convey the truth to the point that meaningful action is taken.

With that aim in mind, I hope you will help to inform others of the message conveyed in this article.

Author

Paul Mahony

Footnotes

  1. Professor Hughes also indicated a figure of 30 per cent for 2016. I have assumed he was rounding up the official figure of 29 per cent, and I have used the latter.
  2. A reduction in areal extent from 20 per cent to 14.2 per cent represents a reduction of 5.8 percentage points, and from 14.2 per cent to 11.5 per cent a further 2.7 percentage points, i.e. a total of 8.5 percentage points for those two years. The reduction of 8.5 per cent represents 17 per cent of the 1960s coverage, which was 50 per cent of the reef.
    Due to their close proximity in terms of timing, it is possible that the 2016 and 2017 declines were both expressed as a percentage of the 2015 areal extent. That approach would accentuate the reduction, leaving 10.4 per cent in 2017 rather than the figure of 11.5 per cent indicated here. The figures will be amended if my assumptions are found to be incorrect. Either way, they would appear to represent reasonable approximations.
    On the other hand, media outlets have reported that half the coral has been lost in the past two years. Clearly, a 50 per cent reduction using the 1960s base figure would not be possible when around 80 per cent of that base figure had already been lost by 2015.
  3. The area represents original clearing and re-clearing, demonstrating the ability of wooded vegetation to regenerate if given the opportunity.
  4. All photos in the slideshow, other than Tim Flannery’s, are from the “Reef not coal snap action”, held in Melbourne on 5th December, 2016, and arranged by ACF, AYCC and 350.org. Tim Flannery’s image is from a video recorded on the reef, where he spoke solely about climate change.

Updates

9 July 2017:

The GBRMPA has reported that, in addition to bleaching, corals during 2017 have been affected by: (a) tropical cyclone Debbie (late March 2017); (b) subsequent flooding of the Burdekin and Fitzroy Rivers and resultant flood plumes; (c) ongoing outbreaks of coral disease; and (d) crown-of-thorns starfish. [47] Those factors may have resulted in current coral coverage being below 11.5 per cent. Animal agriculture is relevant to each, including: (i) the flood plumes resulting from eroded soils in the Burekin and Fitzroy catchments; and (ii) tropical cyclones which are affected by the sector’s global warming impact.

Even if we attributed all the coral loss in 2016 and 2017 to bleaching (which was not the case), its contribution since the 1960s is likely to have been well below that of cyclones and COTS.

As mentioned within the article, Jon Brodie of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies believes COTS were probably the major cause of coral mortality in the period from 1960 to 1985. A major COTS outbreak occurred in the 1960s, while the first major bleaching event occurred in 1998, so bleaching may have had no impact during that period.

5 August 2017:

One paragraph has been amended to clarify the fact that erosion from cattle grazing occurs on uncleared, as well as cleared, land (consistent with many of my previous articles).

References

[1] Brodie, J., “Great Barrier Reef dying beneath its crown of thorns”, The Conversation, 16th April, 2012, http://theconversation.com/great-barrier-reef-dying-beneath-its-crown-of-thorns-6383

[2] De’ath, G., Katharina Fabricius, K.E., Sweatman, H., Puotinen, M., “The 27–year decline of coral cover on the Great Barrier Reef and its causes”, PNAS 2012 109 (44) 17995-17999; published ahead of print October 1, 2012, doi:10.1073/pnas.1208909109, http://www.pnas.org/citmgr?gca=pnas%3B109%2F44%2F17995

[3] Stella, J., Pears, R., Wachenfeld, D., “Interim Report: 2016 Coral Bleaching Event on the Great Barrier Reef”, Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, September 2016, http://elibrary.gbrmpa.gov.au/jspui/bitstream/11017/3044/5/Interim%20report%20on%202016%20coral%20bleaching%20event%20in%20GBRMP.pdf

[4] Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, Reef Health, 29 May 2017, http://www.gbrmpa.gov.au/media-room/reef-health

[5] Professor Terry Hughes on Twitter, 21st May 2017

[6] Chang, C. and AAP, “Half the Great Barrier Reef may have died in last two years”, 23 May 2017, http://www.news.com.au/technology/environment/climate-change/half-the-great-barrier-reef-may-have-died-in-last-two-years/news-story/d1a7e2974597f40d04700d7313c9f713

[7] Osborne, K., Dolman, A. M., Burgess, S. C., & Johns, K. A. (2011). Disturbance and the Dynamics of Coral Cover on the Great Barrier Reef (1995–2009). PLoS ONE, 6(3), e17516. http://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0017516https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3053361/ and https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3053361/pdf/pone.0017516.pdf

[8] Brodie, J., op. cit.

[9] National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Ocean Service, “What is coral bleaching?”, revised 17 March 2016, http://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/coral_bleach.html

[10] Australian Government, Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, “Managing the reef – Coral bleaching” (undated), http://www.gbrmpa.gov.au/managing-the-reef/threats-to-the-reef/climate-change/what-does-this-mean-for-species/corals/what-is-coral-bleaching

[11] Australian Government, Bureau of Meteorology (undated), http://www.bom.gov.au/oceanography/oceantemp/GBR_Coral.shtml

[12] The Nature Conservancy, Ocean and Coasts, “Coral bleaching: What you need to know” (undated), https://www.nature.org/ourinitiatives/habitats/coralreefs/coral-reefs-coral-bleaching-what-you-need-to-know.xml

[13] Dunlop, I., “Time for honesty on climate and energy policy”, The Sydney Morning Herald, 12 December 2016, http://www.smh.com.au/comment/time-for-honesty-on-climate-and-energy-policy-20161208-gt7g1k.html

[14] Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, “History of crown-of-thorns outbreaks on the Great Barrier Reef”, http://www.gbrmpa.gov.au/about-the-reef/animals/crown-of-thorns-starfish/history-of-outbreaks (accessed 11 June 2017)

[15] Australian Institute of Marine Science, “Crown-of-thorns starfish” (undated), http://www.aims.gov.au/docs/research/biodiversity-ecology/threats/cots.html (accessed 11 June 2017)

[16] Brodie, J., op. cit.

[17] Sweatman, H., “No-take reserves protect coral reefs from predatory starfish”, Current Biology, Volume 18, Issue 14, pR598–R599, 22 July 2008, http://www.cell.com/current-biology/fulltext/S0960-9822(08)00671-4 and http://www.cell.com/current-biology/pdf/S0960-9822(08)00671-4.pdf

[18] Australian Institute of Marine Science, “Crown-of-Thorns Starfish distribution” (undated), http://www.aims.gov.au/docs/research/biodiversity-ecology/threats/cots-animation.html (Accessed 11 June 2017)

[19] Australian Institute of Marine Science, “Water Quality” (undated), http://www.aims.gov.au/docs/research/water-quality/water-quality.html

[20] Kroon, F., Turner, R., Smith, R., Warne, M., Hunter, H., Bartley, R., Wilkinson, S., Lewis, S., Waters, D., Caroll, C., 2013 “Scientific Consensus Statement: Sources of sediment, nutrients, pesticides and other pollutants in the Great Barrier Reef Catchment”, Ch. 4, p. 12, The State of Queensland, Reef Water Quality Protection Plan Secretariat, July, 2013, http://www.reefplan.qld.gov.au/about/scientific-consensus-statement/sources-of-pollutants.aspx

[21] Australian Government, Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, “Managing the reef”, undated, http://www.gbrmpa.gov.au/managing-the-reef/threats-to-the-reef/declining-water-quality

[22] May, D., “The North Queensland beef cattle industry: an historical overview“, from Lectures on North Queensland history. No. 4 chapter 6 pp. 121-159, Edited by Dalton, B. J.. Townsville. James Cook University of North Queensland, 1984, http://www.textqueensland.com.au/item/chapter/9b938237e189a1274770d0d2e94209ad

[23] The Wilderness Society, “Land Clearing in Queensland” (undated) https://www.wilderness.org.au/land-clearing-queensland (Accessed 12 June 2017)

[24] Queensland Department of Science, Information Technology and Innovation. 2016. Land cover change in Queensland 2014–15: a Statewide Landcover and Trees Study (SLATS) report. DSITI, Brisbane

[25] Mahony, P., “Beef, the reef and rugby: We have a problem”, Terrastendo, 26 March 2017, https://terrastendo.net/2017/03/26/beef-the-reef-and-rugby-we-have-a-problem/

[26] Agriculture Victoria, “Gully Erosion”, Nov 1999, http://agriculture.vic.gov.au/agriculture/farm-management/soil-and-water/erosion/gully-erosion (Accessed 13 June 2017)

[27] Carey, B., Queensland Government, Natural Resources and Water, “Gully Erosion”, March 2006, https://www.qld.gov.au/dsiti/assets/soil/gully-erosion.pdf

[28] Queensland Government, “Great Barrier Reef Report Card 2015: Reef water quality protection plan”, http://www.reefplan.qld.gov.au/measuring-success/report-cards/2015/ and http://www.reefplan.qld.gov.au/measuring-success/report-cards/2015/assets/gbr-2015report-card.pdf

[29] Australian Government, Department of Environment and Energy, Reef 2050 Long-Term Sustainability Plan – Progress on Implementation Review by Great Barrier Reef Independent Review Group, February 2017, p. 50, http://www.environment.gov.au/marine/gbr/long-term-sustainability-plan

[30] Queensland Government, “Types of erosion”, Last updated 18 December 2013, last reviewed 14 October 2015, https://www.qld.gov.au/environment/land/soil/erosion/types/ (Accessed 13 June 2017)

[31] Wahlquist, C., “Great Barrier Reef: Australia must act urgently on water quality, says Unesco”, The Guardian, 3 June 2017, https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/jun/03/great-barrier-reef-australia-must-act-urgently-on-water-quality-says-unesco?CMP=share_btn_fb

[32] Brodie, J., Email correspondence, 9 June 2017

[33] Brodie, J., Christie, C., Devlin, M., Haynes, D., Morris, S., Ramsay, M., Waterhouse, J., and Yorkston, H., “Catchment management and the Great Barrier Reef”, pp. 203 & 205, Water Science and Technology Vol 43 No 9 pp 203–211 © IWA Publishing 200, May 2001, http://wst.iwaponline.com/content/43/9/203

[34] The Greens, “Protecting the Great Barrier Reef” (undated), https://greens.org.au/save-the-reef

[35] The Climate Council of Australia, “Raise the reef”, 13th October 2016, http://www.climatecouncil.org.au/raise-the-reef

[36] Mahony, P., “The link that too many ignore”, Terrastendo, 26 August 2016, https://terrastendo.net/2016/08/26/the-link-that-too-many-ignore/

[37] Hughes, Terry P., Barnes, Michele L., Bellwood, David R., Cinner, Joshua E., Cumming, Graeme S., Jackson, Jeremy B.C., Kleypas, Joanie, van de Leemput, Ingrid A., Lough, Janice M., Morrison, Tiffany H.,  Palumbi, Stephen R., van Nes, Egbert H., Scheffer, Marten, “Coral reefs in the Anthropocene”, Nature, 546, 82–90, 1 June 2017 (published online 31 May 2017), doi:10.1038/nature22901, http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/nature22901

[38] Beyond Zero Emissions and Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute of The University of Melbourne, “Zero Carbon Australia – Land Use: Agriculture and Forestry – Discussion Paper”, October, 2014, http://bze.org.au/landuse

[39] Wedderburn-Bisshop, G., Longmire, A., Rickards, L., “Neglected Transformational Responses: Implications of Excluding Short Lived Emissions and Near Term Projections in Greenhouse Gas Accounting”, International Journal of Climate Change: Impacts and Responses, Volume 7, Issue 3, September 2015, pp.11-27. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Published Online: August 17, 2015, http://ijc.cgpublisher.com/product/pub.185/prod.269

[40] Dept of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, “Australian Food Statistics 2012-13″, Table 2.4, p. 53, http://www.agriculture.gov.au/ag-farm-food/food/publications/afs

[41] Tingle, L., “China trade deal adds $400 million to beef exports”, Australian Financial Review, 24 March 2017, http://www.afr.com/news/politics/china-trade-deal-adds-400-million-to-beef-exports-20170324-gv5qzl

[42] Anon., “Counting the Ecological Cost”, The Canberra Times, 29 May 2005

[43] Australian Government, Austrade, Tourism Research Australia, State Tourism Satellite Accounts 2014-15, https://www.tra.gov.au/tra/2016/research/State-Tourism-Satellite-Accounts_2014-15.html and https://www.tra.gov.au/tra/2016/documents/Economic-Industry/State_summaries.pdf

[44] Australian Government, Department of Environment and Energy, op. cit., p. 52

[45]  Farm Weekly, “Australian beef exports hit world top”, 30 April, 2017, http://www.farmweekly.com.au/news/agriculture/livestock/general-news/australian-beef-exports-hit-world-top/2755103.aspx?storypage=0

[46] Meat & Livestock Australia, Beef Fast Facts 2016, https://www.mla.com.au/globalassets/mla-corporate/prices–markets/documents/trends–analysis/fast-facts–maps/mla_beef-fast-facts-2016.pdf

[47] Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, Reef Health, 29 June 2017 (relating to 29 July 2017 update), http://www.gbrmpa.gov.au/about-the-reef/reef-health

Images

Brian Kinney, Wonderful and beautiful underwater world with corals and tropical fish (within Figure 1(b)), Shutterstock

Ryan McMinds, Crown-of-Thorns Starfish (Acanthaster planci), Lizard Island, Flickr, Creative Commons, Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)  http://tinyurl.com/yaswsjes

skvoor, Australia map light blue map with shadow, Shutterstock

skvoor, United States map light blue map with shadow, Shutterstock

Slideshow images (except Tim Flannery): Takver, Photographs by: Julian Meehan, “Reef not coal snap action”, 5th Dec 2016, Flickr,  Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Tim Flannery’s image: The Climate Council of Australia, “Raise the reef”, 13th October 2016, http://www.climatecouncil.org.au/raise-the-reef, Creative Commons attribution 3.0 Australia license (CC By 3.0 AU) (Climate Council reports note that “Climate Council of Australia Ltd copyright material is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Australia License.”)

All photos in the slideshow, other than Tim Flannery’s, are from the “Reef not coal snap action”, held in Melbourne on 5th Dec 2016, and arranged by Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF), Australian Youth Climate Coalition (AYCC) and 350.org.

Andrew Brooks, Griffith University, Gully erosion at Springvale Station, from “Research leads to Great Barrier Reef Rescue Purchase”, Griffith News, 23 June 2016 (Used with permission), https://app.secure.griffith.edu.au/news/2016/06/23/research-leads-to-great-barrier-reef-rescue-purchase/

ARC Centre of Excellence, Media Release “Two-thirds of Great Barrier Reef hit by back-to-back mass coral bleaching”, 10th April 2017, https://www.coralcoe.org.au/media-releases/two-thirds-of-great-barrier-reef-hit-by-back-to-back-mass-coral-bleaching

Animation (Figure 5)

Australian Institute of Marine Science, “Crown-of-Thorns Starfish distribution” (undated), http://www.aims.gov.au/docs/research/biodiversity-ecology/threats/cots-animation.html (Accessed 11 June 2017)

Videos

Australian Institute of Marine Science, “Crown-of-thorns survey video”, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0tcYJ0cAuDU

Stanford University, Microdocs Project, “Crown-of-thorns starfish”, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_SpLgzPqCV8

Australian Government and Fitzroy Basis Association, “Gully erosion in the Fitzroy Basin”, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nhkFiQR4Axs

 

 

 

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Less Meat Less Heat (LMLH) is an Australian climate change campaign group that was created in early 2015. Its mission is “to reduce the consumption of meat most damaging to the climate by promoting a Climatarian diet”.

It describes such a diet as one that involves “. . . choosing what you eat based on the carbon footprint of different foods”, and focuses on a reduction in the consumption of cattle and sheep meat (“beef” and “lamb”). The group’s founder, Mark Pershin, has said, “the only guideline we have for the climatarian diet is cutting back beef and lamb consumption to one standard serving a week”.

This post considers some of the climate change, animal rights and health aspects of LMLH’s campaign. Much of the LMLH material referred to comes from the FAQs concerning its “Climatarian Challenge“, which LMLH describes as a challenge to eat in a carbon-conscious way . . . for 30 days. Participation occurs via a specially-prepared smartphone app.

LMLH is a relatively recent arrival on the scene of climate change campaigning, and the basis of its message is not new. In fact, Pershin has said he was inspired to take action by (in addition to some post-graduate environmental studies) the 2014 documentary “Cowspiracy”, which was also a relatively late (albeit effective) arrival with the livestock message.

The group’s approach seems to be largely marketing based (reflecting Pershin’s background), in seeking behavioural change to an extent that it considers achievable. LMLH seems to see a reduction in ruminant meat consumption as “low hanging fruit” with a “big bang for the buck” in terms of climate change mitigation, as reflected in the relative greenhouse gas emissions intensity of different products.

That might seem a reasonable approach, but there are many shortcomings, some of which I aim to highlight in this post.

The urgent need to act

It seems impossible to overstate the extent of the crisis we are facing in the form of climate change. I agree with LMLH on the urgent need to act in order to avoid a global catastrophe. Feedback mechanisms within the climate system are (by definition and in practice) accelerating, potentially leading to runaway climate change beyond the scope of any mitigation efforts we might seek to initiate.

Nevertheless, we must fight to retain a habitable planet, and I also agree with LMLH that a key plank in the required emergency action must be a general change in dietary practices. However, rather than adopting LMLH’s approach of focusing almost exclusively on certain types of meat, I argue for a general transition toward a plant-based diet. More on that below.

The danger of “bright-siding”

To support its position, LMLH cites global “high meat” and “low meat” scenarios developed by UK “think tank” Chatham House, along with its own more optimistic scenario. The scenarios utilise the “global carbon calculator” developed by the UK Department of Energy and Climate Change, the World Resources Institute and others. It has used the two low meat scenarios to argue that a reduction in beef and lamb consumption will give us a reasonable chance of staying within a 2°C temperature target.  Here’s some of what it has said.

LMLH STATEMENT:

“If we can all cut back our consumption of beef and lamb down to once a week for a standard serving size (65g) or once a month for a large portion such as a roast or steak then we can actually limit climate change to what climate scientists consider safe levels . . .

This sounds too easy, like changing light bulbs, but that is what the climate models used by world leaders tell us and hence what we are telling you. So be part of the solution, take part in The Climatarian Challenge and become a climatarian!” [LMLH, Climatarian Challenge]

RESPONSE: That is a major overstatement that masks the true danger

The first problem with LMLH’s statement is that the 2°C target is widely considered politically expedient and lacking scientific merit.

The former head of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, Dr James Hansen, has described it as “a prescription for disaster”.

Authors of “Climate Code Red: The case for emergency action”, David Spratt and Philip Sutton have said:

“A rise of 2 degrees over pre-industrial temperatures will initiate climate feedbacks in the oceans, on ice-sheets, and on the tundra, taking the Earth well past significant tipping points.”

Although LMLH understands the danger of runaway climate change and the need to stay well below 2°C, its message is inconsistent, and it appears to give challenge participants the impression that all will be well if people simply reduce their red meat consumption.

LMLH also fails to say that Chatham House’s low-meat scenario gives us less than a 50% chance of staying below 2°C. They are horrendous odds when the future of the planet (as we know it) is at stake.

It should perhaps also highlight the fact in its challenge material that an aspirational target of 1.5°C (which is also dangerous but perhaps inevitable) was established at the 2015 Paris climate summit.

Critically, Chatham House’s low meat scenario assumes: (a) global meat consumption will fall below current projections, with monogastric meats, such as chicken and pork, largely replacing ruminant meats like beef and lamb; and (b) nations will comply with pledges to limit energy-related emissions and seek to improve energy efficiency.

LMLH’s third scenario is consistent with the dietary aspects of Chatham House’s low meat scenario, but is more optimistic regarding energy-related emissions, assuming a general transition to renewables. It would almost certainly also involve a high risk of failure relative to what is at stake, and may reflect a high degree of wishful thinking.

LMLH’s notion that “we can actually limit climate change to what climate scientists consider safe levels” by reducing consumption of beef and lamb may represent a form of what David Spratt calls “bright-siding“. Spratt uses the term to describe the tendency of many environmental groups to act on the belief that only positive “good news” messages work, thereby avoiding “bad news” such as climate change impacts (or in this case, the fact that continued consumption of all animal-based foods will contribute significantly to climate catastrophe). LMLH seems to be offering a potential solution to climate change that falls well short of the mark if we want to have a reasonable chance of overcoming the crisis.

A key component of LMLH’s bright-siding approach is its aim “to drive behavioural change in the mainstream population by taking a pragmatic approach”. That approach is consistent with the fact that “pragmatism” is one of its stated values, and reflects the marketing background of its founder.

In the words of David Spratt:

“Is selling ‘good news’ and avoiding ‘bad news’ the way to engage communities in understanding how climate change will affect them and what they can do about it?   In the commercial world the answer is yes, you can sell a ‘solution’ without a real problem, because half the game is about fabricating demand (status, for example) for things people don’t need (a new car) . . .

But with climate change, the problem is not a commercial or political construct, and not fully solving the problem will be catastrophic beyond most peoples’ imaginations and current understandings.”

LMLH dangerously ignores the actual and potential impacts of animal products other than beef and lamb. With meat consumption currently increasing in developing nations such as India and China, we cannot afford to focus solely on beef and lamb in our efforts to create dietary change. Some more focus by LMLH on the impact of fossil fuels and the Catch 22 of aerosols would also be helpful.

Greenhouse gas emissions intensity

LMLH’s main concern is the high greenhouse gas emissions intensity of beef and lamb.

Per kilogram of product, the emissions intensity of those foods is high relative to that of other foods, including other animal-based and plant-based foods, and LMLH is justified in being concerned. However, if we measure the emissions per kilogram of protein, those other animal-based foods do not seem such favourable choices, as shown in Figure 1. The charts show the emissions intensity based on 100-year and 20-year time horizons for determining the global warming potential (GWP) of various greenhouse gases. [Footnote 1]

Figure 1(a): Emissions intensity (kg CO2-e/kg protein) for beef, sheep meat and cow’s milk

Figure 1(b): Emissions intensity (kg CO2-e/kg protein) for other products

Even when measured per kilogram of product, the emissions intensity figures of other animal-based foods are multiples of the figures for plant-based options, with the emissions intensity of eggs, chicken, fish and pork being between 160 and 340 per cent higher than that of soy beans. Economic rationalists may be horrified at efficiency differentials of 5 or 10 per cent, but here we have climate change inefficiencies that are up to 68 times as bad as those figures (5 per cent versus 340 per cent).

A related point is that the inherent inefficiency of all animal-based food products means we require far more resources, including land, than with plant-based options. That creates grave risks for what are currently carbon sinks, such as the Amazon rainforest. With no buffer in our need to deal with the climate crisis, we must use every mitigation opportunity available, including revegetation and avoidance of further land clearing.

The second point is highlighted by the fact that we need many kilograms of plant-based protein to produce one kilogram of the animal-based variety, as shown in Figure 2.

Figure 2: Feed conversion ratios

Some major impacts of industrial and non-industrial fishing on our climate system are not accounted for in emissions intensity figures or national greenhouse gas inventories.

The problem arises from the fact that fishing disturbs food webs, changing the way ecosystems function, and altering the ecological balance of the oceans in dangerous ways. The loss of ocean predators such as large carnivorous fish, sharks, crabs, lobsters, seals and sea lions, and the corresponding population increase of herbivores and bioturbators (creatures that disturb ocean sediment, including certain crabs) causes loss of carbon from vegetated coastal habitats and sediment. The ocean predators are either caught intentionally by fishing fleets, or as by-catch when other species are targeted.

These factors also reduce the ability of the oceans to sequester carbon. If sequestration capability was reduced by 20 per cent in only 10 per cent of vegetated coastal habitats, it would equate to a loss of forested area the size of Belgium.

In respect of emissions intensity figures generally, a major inconsistency in the approach of LMLH is that in written material it refers to methane’s GWP on a 20-year basis (e.g. methane’s warming impact is 86 times that of CO2), but figures used for the app are based on the more conservative 100-year timeframe.

Multiply your cruelty footprint with the Climatarian Challenge

LMLH expresses concern for animals, as demonstrated in the quotations below.

LMLH STATEMENTS:

“Let it be clear that we are firmly against the cruel treatment of animals in the factory farming system . . . we do encourage you to understand the compassionate footprint of your food and engage with other organisations that advocate for animal rights and bravely fight against factory farming. We think that together we can work towards a safer and more compassionate world . . .”  [LMLH, Climatarian Challenge, FAQ, Other Issues, What about animal rights?]

“When we buy meat that is not free range it is factory farmed. Animals raised in factory farms are subject to intensely stressful conditions and sometimes unimaginable cruelty all in the name of cutting costs. These conditions are fuelled and passively accepted by us, the consumers who demand more for less.” [LMLH, “Why free range?”, The Animals]

RESPONSE: The expressions of compassion and concern are not consistent with other aspects of LMLH’s campaign.

If LMLH is “firmly against the cruel treatment of animals in the factory farming system“, then why is it continually encouraging people to replace beef and lamb with chicken and pig meat?

As stated by Eric Baldwin in the short 2002 documentary, “Meet your meat“, “chickens are probably the most abused animals on the face of the planet”. Pigs are not far behind.

Every animal is an individual, with the ability to suffer physical and psychological pain. The fact that one is smaller than another, or perceived as less cuddly, does not reduce the suffering.

If you have a spare couple of minutes, why not watch this short clip, demonstrating the link between a mother hen and her chick, who (unlike most) were given the opportunity to live in a natural way.

xxx

Quite apart from the horrendous conditions experienced by most chickens and pigs in the food production system, to replace the meat from one cow with chicken meat in the top beef-consuming nations would require between 101 and 360 additional chickens to be bred, raised and slaughtered. (88 per cent of the 70 billion land animals slaughtered around the world annually are chickens. In Australia, they represent 90 per cent of the 642 million slaughtered.) The number of pigs is smaller, but still a multiple of cows.

Here are the comparisons by country, determined by the relevant production yields for each product. (Yes, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) publish pig meat figures for all the countries shown here.)

Figure 3(a): Number of chickens required to replace one cow in top per capita beef-eating countries

Figure 3(b): Number of pigs required to replace one cow in top per capita beef-eating countries

Here is a statement that appears to demonstrate LMLH’s lack of concern for animals:

LMLH STATEMENT:

“Fill your plate with ethical deliciousness. Trade your centrepiece of Christmas roast beef or lamb shanks for a lower-carbon alternative. Turkey, ham, chicken, and kangaroo will be sure to satisfy the hunger of your guests with less of a heating effect on the Earth. [LMLH, “An Ethical Christmas Guide”, Dec 2016]

RESPONSE: Shouldn’t cruelty feature in a discussion on the ethics of consuming turkey, ham, chicken or kangaroo?

Here are some examples of legalised cruelty involving chickens, turkeys and pigs, enshrined in Australian livestock codes of practice and legislation (with similar arrangements in place in many other countries):

Chickens and turkeys:

  • life-long confinement indoors;
  • beak trimming without anaesthetic;
  • removing the snood of turkeys (the skin drooping from the forehead) without anaesthetic;
  • removing terminal segment of males’ inward pointing toes without anaesthetic;
  • forced breeding;
  • killing of “surplus” chicks (mainly male) in the egg industry through gassing with CO2 or by “quick maceration”. (The Oxford defines “macerate” as “soften or become softened by soaking in a liquid”. In the case of chicks, they are sent along a conveyor belt to an industrial grinder while still alive.)

Pigs:

  • life-long confinement indoors;
  • confinement in a sow stall, with insufficient room to turn around, for up to 16.5 weeks, day and night;
  • confinement in a farrowing crate, with insufficient room to turn around or interact with piglets, for up to 6 weeks, day and night;
  • tail docking without anaesthetic;
  • ear notching without anaesthetic;
  • teeth clipping without anaesthetic;
  • castration without anaesthetic;
  • forced breeding.

They are some of the legal forms of cruelty, and do not include brutality which has frequently been recorded with under-cover cameras.

It should go without saying that the slaughter process is also not something to be taken lightly, but that seems to be how most people consider it. According to the animal advocacy group, Aussie Farms:

Due to the high demand for meat and other animal products, abattoirs are required to kill very large quantities of animals per day, resulting in a typically rushed environment where ineffective stunning can easily occur. Animals that reach the kill floor without first being properly stunned are then ‘stuck’ and bled out while still conscious.

Regardless of the effectiveness or otherwise of different stunning methods, the sights, sounds and smells of an abattoir create a terrifying experience for animals awaiting their terrible fate.

If interested, you can see undercover footage from the Aussie Farms website here and from Animal Liberation NSW here. (Warning: Graphic footage.)

The great majority of pigs in Australia are stunned for slaughter using the CO2 method, whereby they are directed into a cage, which is then lowered into a CO2 chamber. Many people may wrongly believe that the process is free of pain and stress for animals. This video (Warning: Graphic footage) from Animal Liberation Victoria appears to indicate otherwise, a view supported by Donald Broom, Emeritus Professor in the Department of Veterinary Medicine at Cambridge University.

LMLH also overlooks the horrific suffering of fish and other aquatic animals. Like other animals, those in the oceans and other waterways feel pain. In the aquaculture industry, they spend their lives in crowded, often filthy enclosures, with many suffering from parasitic infections, diseases, and debilitating injuries. In the wild, hundreds of billions of fish and non-target “bycatch” are caught each year in nets or dragged for hours on long-lines. Most fish die slowly through suffocation, and many aquatic animals are prepared by cooks for eating while still alive or killed in horrific ways.

Please also see comments below in relation to kangaroos and free range systems.

Kangaroos: The gross injustice of our present approach

It is pleasing that LMLH recently stated that it would cease advocating the consumption of kangaroo meat as a low-carbon option. However, three items in which it does so were appearing on its website at the time of writing, and kangaroo meat was mentioned by Mark Pershin in a radio interview as recently as 10th April 2017, without reference to its negative aspects.

To the extent that it applies, the decision may have been prompted by interactions on social media with individuals who pointed out various aspects of the kangaroo meat trade, such as its extreme and inherent cruelty (including the plight of joeys who are clubbed to death or abandoned) and the fact that it is not viable as a food source on a scale anywhere near that of the cattle and sheep meat sectors.

A grave concern is that the prime targets of shooters are the largest, strongest individuals, with potentially critical impacts on the prospects of their mob (the term used to describe their group), along with the gene pool and the resilience of the species in increasingly challenging environmental conditions.

Most modern kangaroo species have evolved over a million years or more. Without human intervention on the scale imposed by Europeans commencing just over 200 years ago, they would have continued to live in harmony with the landscape to the extent that it remained habitable. Like our interaction with most non-human animals, the power balance in our favour and a lack of compassion in respect of kangaroos create an example of gross injustice, for which we should be ashamed.

In any event, we consume kangaroo meat at our peril. Parasite infestations and the role of red and processed meat in bowel cancer, heart disease and stroke are major concerns in terms of human health. The fact that kangaroo meat is relatively low in cholesterol may offer little comfort, as it is high in L-carnitine, a compound associated with increased incidence of cardio vascular disease in the form of atherosclerosis.

The folly of “free range” and “grass-fed”

LMLH is a strong advocate of “free range” and “grass-fed” production systems, but free range production methods will never be able to respond on the scale required to feed the masses.

Here are some issues to consider.

Greenhouse gases

LMLH STATEMENT:

“When selecting your beef and lamb meal for the week we recommend opting for a grass-fed option . . .”

RESPONSE: Why does LMLH recommend grass-fed when the emissions intensity is far higher than the alternative?

Meat from grass-fed animals is far more emissions intensive than that from animals fed in mixed systems. [Footnote 2]

Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) has estimated that cows fed on grass produce four times as much methane as those fed on grain. [Footnote 3]

Similarly, Professor Gidon Eshel of Bard College, New York and formerly of the Department of the Geophysical Sciences, University of Chicago, has reported, “since grazing animals eat mostly cellulose-rich roughage while their feedlot counterparts eat mostly simple sugars whose digestion requires no rumination, the grazing animals emit two to four times as much methane”.

The estimates from CSIRO and Eshel relate to the period an animal is eating grass as opposed to grain. The “mixed-fed” result allows for both feeding regimes, resulting in a comparison that is less stark. For example, the FAO has recently reported that the global average emissions intensity of “grass-fed” beef was 62 percent higher than beef from mixed systems, based on the 2010 reference period (95.1 kg vs 58.6 kg CO2-e/kg product). [Footnote 4]

Cruelty

Please see comments from LMLH under the earlier heading “Multiply your cruelty footprint with the Climatarian Challenge”.

There are no legally enforceable free range standards in Australia, and the systems still involve cruelty.

In respect of cattle (who generally live in free range systems for most of their lives), the livestock industry codes of practice (endorsed by legislation) permit:

  • castration without anaesthetic if under six months old or, under certain circumstances, at an older age;
  • dehorning without anaesthetic if under six months old or, under certain circumstances, at an older age;
  • disbudding (prior to horns growing) without anaesthetic. Caustic chemicals may be used for that process under certain circumstances, including an age of less than fourteen days;
  • hot iron branding without anaesthetic;
  • forced breeding.

Here is a calf, possibly “free range”, enduring the horror of hot iron branding.

Major problems have been exposed in relation to pig meat production on the “Free Range Fraud” website of Animal Liberation Victoria, involving brands accredited as free range by the RSPCA. A related point is that the RSPCA has been reported to earn a royalty equal to 2 per cent of sales from accredited producers. In any event, the RSPCA has no power in relation to the legalised forms of cruelty.

Many free range farmers send their animals to regular abattoirs for slaughter. Tammi Jonas of Jonai Farms has confirmed that her business sends the animals to Diamond Valley Pork in Laverton, Victoria, where the CO2 stunning shown in Animal Liberation Victoria’s video, referred to earlier, occurs. (Warning: Graphic footage)

In its FAQ on dairy, LMLH recommends “grass-fed cheese”. The failure to acknowledge the animals whose milk is used seems to demonstrate a lack of empathy. It also highlights a failure to recognise the immense, inherent cruelty involved in dairy production, whereby cows are impregnated in order to stimulate their mammary glands, only to have their newborn calves removed within a day of birth so that the milk that was meant for them can be consumed by supermarket customers.

LMLH erroneously uses the term “animal rights”, when in reality it means “animal welfare”. The latter assumes that animals have no rights, and must be available for our use.

Health

LMLH STATEMENT:

“Meat is nowhere near as good for you as when the animal is raised on pasture and eats what it has evolved to eat.”

RESPONSE: Whether “grass-fed” or “grain-fed”, red meat has serious health implications.

The only health issue raised by LMLH is the fatty acid composition of meat. However, whether a cow eats grass or grain, the meat represents a serious health risk, with the detrimental impacts being well documented by the World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF), the World Health Organization, and others.

A recent example was the April 2016 study by researchers from the Oxford Martin School (University of Oxford) reporting on the health and climate change benefits of changing diets, including reduced consumption of animal products. The researchers estimated that if the global population were to adopt a vegetarian diet, 7.3 million lives per year would be saved by 2050. If a vegan diet were adopted, the figure would be 8.1 million per year.

More than half the avoided deaths would be due to reduced red meat consumption. (The health organisations classify pig meat as red meat.) The results primarily reflect anticipated reductions in the rate of coronary heart disease, stroke, cancer, and type 2 diabetes.

In 2012, Harvard University released a study involving more than 120,000 participants over twenty-six years, with similarly damning results. Citing the study, the New York Time reported that “eating red meat is associated with a sharply increased risk of death from cancer and heart disease . . . and the more of it you eat, the greater the risk . . . Previous studies have linked red meat consumption and mortality, but the new results suggest a surprisingly strong link”.

Land use

LMLH STATEMENT:

“Cows provide many valuable services to the grasses that they graze on, including feeding them with nitrogen from their manure.”

RESPONSE: The impact on land of cattle grazing is overwhelmingly negative.

Much of the land on which cattle graze was once forest or other forms of wooded vegetation, with an ongoing loss of carbon sequestration on top of the impact of carbon being released at the time of clearing. Even perennial grasslands are no match for forest in terms of sequestration, with Australia’s Chief Scientist reporting that forests are typically more than ten times as effective as grasslands, per hectare, at storing carbon.

Rather than promoting the growth of healthy grass, cattle grazing generally degrades soil, with devastating impacts well beyond the pasture. For example, the erosion generated by cattle grazing is one of the largely hidden reasons behind the ongoing demise of one of the world’s natural wonders, the Great Barrier Reef. Cattle grazing is responsible for 75 per cent of sediment in the reef’s waters, along with 54 per cent of phosphorous and 40 per cent of nitrogen. The sediment blocks the sun and smothers coral. The fertilisers promote algal growth that represents a food source for crown-of-thorns starfish larvae.

Researchers from the Australian Institute of Marine Science and the University of Wollongong estimated in 2012 that the reef had lost around half of the coral cover that existed in 1985. [Footnote 5] The research attributed the loss to three main factors in the following order: cyclones (48 per cent), crown-of-thorns starfish (42 per cent) and coral bleaching (10 per cent). It is estimated that if crown-of-thorns starfish predation had not occurred during that period, there would have been a net increase in average coral cover.

The release of carbon due to soil erosion following livestock-related land clearing was a key factor in Beyond Zero Emissions and Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute (University of Melbourne) estimating that animal agriculture was responsible for around 50 per cent of Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions. Other factors included an allowance for short-lived climate forcers and a 20-year GWP.

The Pew Charitable Trusts have reported on the destructive environmental impacts of livestock grazing in remote areas of Australia, including the introduction of invasive pasture grasses, manipulation of fire regimes, tree clearing, and degradation of land and natural water sources.

According to Professor Ian Lunt of Charles Sturt University, managed grazing systems are only suitable in a small number of Australian ecosystems, particularly lowland grasslands and grassy woodlands on productive soils in areas of moderate to high rainfall.

Conclusion

LMLH appears to have been effective in engaging with the public and media on climate change and the impact of diet, but there is too much at stake to avoid highlighting concerns over various aspects of its campaign.

Although those involved can be proud of their efforts in many respects, they appear to be: (a) understating the true dangers; (b) ignoring or overlooking key mitigation measures; and (c) failing to adequately recognise or acknowledge the plight of food production animals.

I hope LMLH will reconsider some aspects of its current approach, potentially enhancing its effectiveness while also raising awareness of various issues that are currently largely out of public view.

Author

Paul Mahony

Footnotes

  1. Greenhouse gas emissions intensity and GWP: The 100-year figures have been published by the FAO, while the 20-year figures represent an adjustment allowing for the apportionment of various greenhouse gases for each animal-based product as also reported by the FAO, along with  and the IPCC’s 2013 GWPs for methane and nitrous oxide. The GWP-20 figures are approximations, as the apportionment of greenhouse gases per product was based on results from GLEAM 1 (2005 reference period), while the latest FAO GWP100 figures are from GLEAM 2 (2010 reference period). [GLEAM is the FAO’s Global Livestock Environmental Assessment Model.] Some figures are higher than estimates I have conservatively reported elsewhere, where I chose not to adjust for yield. The beef figures include beef from the dairy herd, the emissions intensity of which is lower than that of the specialised beef herd, as emissions are also attributed to other products, such as milk and cheese.
  2. FAO reporting: A recent FAO spreadsheet using the 2005 reference period indicated the opposite result, but the organisation has confirmed that emissions from land use change for pasture expansion had inadvertently been attributed to mixed, rather than grassland, systems. The spreadsheet has been withdrawn, and correct results will be published for the 2010 reference period.
  3. Emissions from grass-fed cattle: Although the CSIRO subsequently reported a reduction of around 30 per cent in emissions from the northern Australian cattle herd, emissions from grass-fed cattle remain on a different paradigm to those of most food-based emissions. The same can be said for potential reductions in methane emissions through the use of seaweed and chemicals in animal feed, which are likely to have the added problem of being an impractical option for grass-fed animals.
  4. Feeding regimes for cattle: Cows are not fed grain exclusively. They have not evolved to consume it, and if it is used at all, they are generally only “finished” on it for up to 120 days prior to slaughter.
  5. Loss of coral from the Great Barrier Reef: The precise figure lost since 1985 was 50.7 per cent.

Some minor concerns

Here are some less serious concerns with LMLH’s material:

  1. In explaining the use of “carbon points” in its climate challenge app, LMLH has linked to a 2011 article from the Guardian, explaining Global Warming Potential. The problem is that the figures are out of date, and do not represent the figures used in the app.
  2. Twice on its Climate Challenge FAQ page, LMLH refers to “The United Nations Farming and Agriculture Organisation”. The title used is incorrect, with the main problem being the use of the word “Farming” rather than “Food”.

References

TedX St Kilda, Reclaim Our Future with the Climatarian Diet Mark Pershin TE”, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_zLE6Z4YLsM

Less Meat Less Heat, Climatarian Challenge FAQ, http://www.lessmeatlessheat.org/app/faq/

Room with a view, 3RRR 102.7 FM, 10th April 2017, http://www.rrr.org.au/program/room-with-a-view?an_page=2017-04-10

Pershin, M., “Meat the Biggest Threat and Opportunity to Climate Change”, 22 November 2015, http://www.lessmeatlessheat.org/article/meat-the-biggest-threat-and-opportunity-to-climate-change-2/

The Global Calculator: Pathways, http://uncached-site.globalcalculator.org/pathways

The Global Calculator, http://uncached-site.globalcalculator.org

Hannam, P., “Paris 2015: Two degrees warming a ‘prescription for disaster’ says top climate scientist James Hansen”, Sydney Morning Herald, 5th May 2015, http://www.smh.com.au/environment/un-climate-conference/paris-2015-two-degrees-warming-a-prescription-for-disaster-says-top-climate-scientist-james-hansen-20150504-ggu33w.html

Wellesley, L., “Left Unchecked, Western Diets Could Derail Climate Action”, Chatham House, https://www.chathamhouse.org/expert/comment/16752

Spratt, D and Sutton, P, “Climate Code Red: The case for emergency action”, Scribe, 2008, p. 47

Phillips, S., “Paris climate deal: How a 1.5 degree target overcame the odds at COP21”, 13th December 2015, http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-12-13/how-the-1-5-degree-target-overcame-the-odds-in-paris/7024006

ABC News, “The Paris Agreement Explained”, updated 9th December 2016, http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-12-09/the-paris-agreement-explained/8107100

Spratt, D., Climate Code Red, “Always look on the bright side of life: Bright-siding climate advocacy and its consequences”, 17th April 2012, http://www.climatecodered.org/2012/04/always-look-on-bright-side-of-life.html

Less Meat Less Heat, About, http://www.lessmeatlessheat.org/about

Hansen, J, “Storms of my Grandchildren”, Bloomsbury, 2009, pp. 97-98

Mahony, P., “On the edge of a climate change precipice”, Terrastendo, 3rd March 2015, https://terrastendo.net/2015/03/03/on-the-edge-of-a-climate-change-precipice/

Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Global Livestock Environmental Assessment Model (GLEAM) – Results, http://www.fao.org/gleam/results/en/

Gerber, P.J., Steinfeld, H., Henderson, B., Mottet, A., Opio, C., Dijkman, J., Falcucci, A. & Tempio, G. 2013. “Tackling climate change through livestock – A global assessment of emissions and mitigation opportunities”. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), Rome, http://www.fao.org/ag/againfo/resources/en/publications/tackling_climate_change/index.htm

Mahony, P. “GWP Explained”, 14th June 2013, updated 15th March 2015, https://terrastendo.net/gwp-explained/

Tilman, D., Clark, M., “Global diets link environmental sustainability and human health”, Nature515, 518–522 (27 November 2014) doi:10.1038/nature13959, Extended Data Table 7 “Protein conversion ratios of livestock production systems”, http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v515/n7528/full/nature13959.html#t7, cited in Mahony, P., “Chickens, pigs and the Amazon tipping point”, Terrastendo, 5th October, 2015, https://terrastendo.net/2015/10/05/chickens-pigs-and-the-amazon-tipping-point/

Less Meat Less Heat, Facts, Emissions, http://www.lessmeatlessheat.org/facts/

Mahony, P., “Seafood and climate change: The surprising link”, New Matilda, 23rd November, 2015, https://newmatilda.com/2015/11/23/seafood-and-climate-change-the-surprising-link/

Atwood, T.B., Connolly, R.M., Ritchie, E.G., Lovelock, C.E., Heithaus, M.R., Hays, G.C., Fourqurean, J.W., Macreadie, P.I., “Predators help protect carbon stocks in blue carbon ecosystems”, published online 28 September 2015, http://www.nature.com/nclimate/journal/vaop/ncurrent/full/nclimate2763.html, cited in Mahony, P., “Seafood and climate change: The surprising link”, ibid.

Less Meat Less Heat, Climatarian Challenge, FAQ, Meal Entry, What if my meal contains two or more types of meat?, http://www.lessmeatlessheat.org/app/faq/#Meal_Entry

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), “Meet your meat”, 2002, http://www.peta.org/videos/meet-your-meat/

Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, FAOSTAT, Livestock Primary, http://www.fao.org/faostat/en/#data/QL

Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, OECD Data, Meat Consumption, Kilograms/capita, 2015 (Source: OECD-FAO Agricultural Outlook 2016), https://data.oecd.org/agroutput/meat-consumption.htm

Less Meat Less Heat, “An ethical Christmas guide”, http://www.lessmeatlessheat.org/article/an-ethical-christmas-guide/

Aussie Farms, “Aussie Abattoirs: Overview”, http://www.aussieabattoirs.com/facts

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), “Fish and Other Sea Animals Used for Food” (undated), http://www.peta.org/issues/animals-used-for-food/factory-farming/fish/

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), “Lobsters and Crabs Used for Food” (undated), http://www.peta.org/issues/animals-used-for-food/factory-farming/fish/lobsters-crabs/

Animals Australia, “Fishing” (undated), http://www.animalsaustralia.org/issues/fishing.php

Mood, A. and Brooke, P. “Estimating the Number of Fish Caught in Global Fishing Each Year”, July 2010, http://www.fishcount.org.uk and http://www.fishcount.org.uk/published/std/fishcountstudy.pdf

Nelson, B., “7 animals that are eaten alive by humans”, Mother Nature Network, 11th March 2011, http://www.mnn.com/food/healthy-eating/photos/7-animals-that-are-eaten-alive-by-humans/octopus#top-desktop

Croft, D.B., “Kangaroos maligned: 16 million years of evolution and two centuries of persecution” from “Kangaroos: Myths and realities” by Maryland Wilson and David B. Croft, 2005, Australian Wildlife Protection Council

Koeth, R.A., Wang, Z., Levison, B.S., Buffa, J.A., Org, E., Sheehy, B.T., Britt, E.B., Fu, X., Wu, Y., Li, L., Smith, J.D., DiDonato, J.A., Chen, J., Li, H., Wu, G.D., Lewis, J.D., Warrier, M., Brown, J.M., Krauss, R.M., Tang, W.H.W., Bushman, F.D., Lusis, A.J., Hazen, S.L.,“Intestinal microbiota metabolism of l-carnitine, a nutrient in red meat, promotes atherosclerosis”, Nature Medicine 19, 576–585 (2013) doi:10.1038/nm.3145, Published online, 07 April 2013, http://www.nature.com/nm/journal/v19/n5/full/nm.3145.html

Kennedy P. M., Charmley E. (2012) “Methane yields from Brahman cattle fed tropical grasses and legumes”, Animal Production Science 52, 225–239, Submitted: 10 June 2011, Accepted: 7 December 2011, Published: 15 March 2012, http://dx.doi.org/10.1071/AN11103

CSIRO Media Release, “Research sheds new light on methane emissions from the northern beef herd”, 27th May 2011, https://csiropedia.csiro.au/research-sheds-new-light-on-methane-emissions-from-the-northern-beef-herd/

Mahony, P.,Methane breakthrough not what it may seem, Terrastendo, 20th September 2015, https://terrastendo.net/2015/09/20/methane-breakthrough-not-what-it-may-seem/

Battaglia, M., “Seaweed could hold the key to cutting methane emissions from cow burps”, CSIRO Blog, 14th October 2016, https://blog.csiro.au/seaweed-hold-key-cutting-methane-emissions-cow-burps/

Australian Lot Feeders Association, “What happens in a feedlot?”, http://feedlots.com.au/industry/feedlot-industry/what-happens-on-a-feedlot/

Harper, L.A., Denmead, O.T., Freney, J.R., and Byers, F.M., Journal of Animal Science, June, 1999, “Direct measurements of methane emissions from grazing and feedlot cattle”, J ANIM SCI, 1999, 77:1392-1401, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10375217; http://www.journalofanimalscience.org/content/77/6/1392.full.pdf

Eshel, G., “Grass-fed beef packs a punch to environment”, Reuters Environment Forum, 8 Apr 2010, http://blogs.reuters.com/environment/2010/04/08/grass-fed-beef-packs-a-punch-to-environment/

Emails to the author from the Food and Agriculture Organization of United Nations, 8th and 21st April, 2017

Smith, A., “RSPCA stamp ‘dupes buyers’”, The Age, 9th January, 2012, http://www.theage.com.au/business/rspca-stamp-dupes-buyers-20120108-1pq6z.html

Animal Liberation Victoria, “Free Range Fraud”, http://freerangefraud.com/

Mahony, P., “More on our open letter with Tammi Jonas of Jonai Farms”, Terrastendo, 25th June 2015, https://terrastendo.net/2013/06/25/more-on-our-open-letter-to-tammi-jonas-of-jonai-farms/

Springmann, M., Godfray, H.C.J., Rayner, M., Scarborough, P., “Analysis and valuation of the health and climate change cobenefits of dietary change”, PNAS 2016 113 (15) 4146-4151; published ahead of print March 21, 2016, doi:10.1073/pnas.1523119113, (print edition 12 Apr 2016), http://www.pnas.org/content/113/15/4146.full and http://www.pnas.org/content/113/15/4146.full.pdf

World Cancer Research Fund UK, “Informed – Issue 36, Winter 2009”, http://www.wcrf-uk.org/cancer_prevention/health_professionals/informed_articles/processed_meat.php

Phares, E.H., “WHO report says eating processed meat is carcinogenic: Understanding the findings”, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, 3rd November 2015, https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/2015/11/03/report-says-eating-processed-meat-is-carcinogenic-understanding-the-findings/

Bakalar, N., “Risks: More Red Meat, More Mortality”, The New York Times, 12 March, 2012, http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/13/health/research/red-meat-linked-to-cancer-and-heart-disease.html?_r=1&scp=2&sq=red%20meat%20harvard&st=cse#

Australia’s Chief Scientist, Australian Government, “Which plants store more carbon in Australia: forests or grasses?”(undated), http://www.chiefscientist.gov.au/2009/12/which-plants-store-more-carbon-in-australia-forests-or-grasses/

Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, “History of crown-of-thorns outbreaks on the Great Barrier Reef” (undated – post October 2012), http://www.gbrmpa.gov.au/about-the-reef/animals/crown-of-thorns-starfish/history-of-outbreaks

De’ath, G., Katharina Fabricius, K.E., Sweatman, H., Puotinen, M., “The 27–year decline of coral cover on the Great Barrier Reef and its causes”, PNAS 2012 109 (44) 17995-17999; published ahead of print October 1, 2012, doi:10.1073/pnas.1208909109, http://www.pnas.org/citmgr?gca=pnas%3B109%2F44%2F17995

Longmire, A., Taylor, C., Wedderburn-Bisshop, G., “Zero Carbon Australia – Land Use: Agriculture and Forestry – Discussion Paper”, Beyond Zero Emissions and Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute of The University of Melbourne, October, 2014, http://bze.org.au/landuse

Woinarski, J., Traill, B., Booth, C., “The Modern Outback: Nature, people, and the future of remote Australia”, The Pew Charitable Trusts, October 2014, p. 167-171 http://www.pewtrusts.org/en/research-and-analysis/reports/2014/10/the-modern-outback

Lunt, I., Can livestock grazing benefit biodiversity?, The Conversation, 19th November, 2012, http://theconversation.edu.au/can-livestock-grazing-benefit-biodiversity-10789, citing Lunt, I., Eldridge, D.J., Morgan, J.W., Witt, G.B., Turner Review No. 13 – A framework to predict the effects of livestock grazing and grazing exclusion on conservation values in natural ecosystems in Australia“, Australian Journal of Botany 55(4) 401–415, http://dx.doi.org/10.1071/BT06178 and http://www.publish.csiro.au/paper/BT06178

The Guardian, “What are CO2e and global warming potential (GWP)?”, 27th April 2011, https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2011/apr/27/co2e-global-warming-potential

Images

Naqueles tempos | duardo Amorim | Flickr | Creative Commons | Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

noBorders – Brayden Howie | Young Kangaroo on east coast of Australia. Close up of head and face. Photographed in the wild | Shutterstock

Videos

Mama Hen & Baby Chick (English Subtitles) – from Peaceable Kingdom film, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gLxSg42Oj5E

Aussie Farms, “Australian lambs slaughtered at Gathercole’s Abattoir, Wangaratta Vic”, Undated, https://vimeo.com/117656676?lite=1

Animal Liberation New South Wales, “Cruelty exposed at Hawkesbury Valley Abattoir”, 9th February 2012, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zp-8PpA4upM

Animal Liberation Victoria, “Pig Truth”, Undated, https://www.alv.org.au/pig-truth/watch-pig-truth/

Update

Comments and references concerning aquatic animals and livestock grazing expanded on 26th April 2017, along with other minor revisions to text.

The second sentence under the heading “Kangaroos: The gross injustice of our present approach” amended on 10th May 2017.

Comment on crown-of-thorns starfish modified on 26th June 2017.

The state of Queensland is the beef production capital of Australia. At last count (2015), it had 11.7 million cattle, which was more than double its human population, and nearly double the cattle population of its nearest beef-producing rival, New South Wales.

Land clearing for beef production in the two states is the reason the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) nominated eastern Australia as one of eleven global deforestation fronts for the twenty years to 2030.

The states are also fierce rivals in rugby league, and the sport provides an opportunity to highlight the extent of land clearing.

In Queensland alone, from 1988 to 2015, an area equivalent to nearly 11 million rugby fields was cleared for pasture. [Footnote] That’s a rate of three-quarters of a rugby field per minute, and represents 91 per cent of total land clearing in the state. The figures include clearing of regrowth, demonstrating the resilience of forest and other wooded vegetation if given the chance to regenerate. But it is seldom given such a chance in Queensland.

A partial ban on broadscale clearing, introduced in 2006, was overturned by the conservative Liberal National Party government in 2013, and clearing is now accelerating. The problem is illustrated by the following chart.

Figure 1: Extent of Queensland land clearing 1988-2015

In New South Wales, the Native Vegetation Act was repealed by the conservative Liberal Party government in late 2016, with an anticipated loss of biodiversity and increased land clearing.

The clearing contributes significantly to: loss of biodiversity; the release of carbon contained in the vegetation and soil; and an ongoing loss of carbon sequestration. The carbon emissions are not allocated against livestock production in official greenhouse gas inventories, causing livestock-related emissions to be understated.

Impact on the Great Barrier Reef

The clearing, along with cattle grazing in cleared and uncleared areas, causes soil to be eroded and carried by adjoining streams and rivers to the coast, significantly affecting one of the world’s natural wonders, the Great Barrier Reef.

The Queensland Government’s 2013 Scientific Consensus Statement confirmed that beef production in the surrounding catchment was responsible for 75% of sediment, 54% of phosphorous and 40% of nitrogen in the reef’s waters.

Jon Brodie is the Chief Research Scientist at the Centre for Tropical Water & Aquatic Ecosystem Research, James Cook University. He has reported that the sediment and nutrients, along with pesticides, have caused: (a) the waters of the reef to become cloudier, thereby reducing the sunlight available for the growth of corals, seagrass and marine algae; (b) increased frequency of crown of thorns starfish outbreaks, increasing the rate of coral deaths (responsible for 42 per cent of coral loss from 1985 to 2012);  (c) some reefs to become dominated by algae and other organisms, rather than coral; and (d) an increase in coral diseases.

He has said:

“These effects, together with those of climate change, have contributed to the severe decline in the overall health of the GBR.”

The government’s most recent Reef Water Quality Protection Plan report card scored graziers’ response to the calamity a “D” for “poor”.

The following image shows sediment that has been carried to the coast along the Burdekin River, where some of the highest cattle numbers are found.

Figure 2: Satellite image of heavy sediment along the Queensland coast

No word on cattle grazing’s reef impacts from the Climate Council

In late 2016, the Climate Council of Australia released a video of chairman Tim Flannery, commissioner Lesley Hughes and CEO Amanda McKenzie snorkeling in the waters of the reef. They were expressing grave concern about the reef’s condition, but said nothing about the devastating impact of beef production.

The Climate Council’s silence might not be surprising when you consider Flannery’s close association with the livestock sector, including his former contract with Meat & Livestock Australia. However, I am not in a position to say that any person or organisation has tried to influence others, or that any person or organisation has been influenced.

Figure 3: Professor Tim Flannery reporting from the Great Barrier Reef

Nevertheless, I feel it’s worth noting that a search for the word “beef” on the council’s website yields only four results, while the term “fossil fuel” yields one hundred and seventy.

Even then, three of the items on beef, and their related reports, were expressing concern over the adverse impact of climate change on its production, rather than the other way around! Could you imagine the council expressing concern over a reduction in coal production?

The one short website article (for which there was no related report) that raised some concerns about the impact of animal-based foods was not published until October 2016, more than five years after the councilors came together in the council’s predecessor organisation, the Climate Commission. In that article, the adverse impacts were conservative, and the council still couldn’t help itself; it concluded with comments not on the livestock sector, but on power generation.

At a Melbourne presentation in April 2013 by Flannery, McKenzie and fellow climate commissioner, Will Steffen, I pointed out that the then forthcoming discussion paper by climate change campaign group Beyond Zero Emissions and Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute (University of Melbourne) would indicate that animal agriculture was responsible for around 50 percent of Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions after allowing for various factors, such as: livestock-related land clearing; soil carbon losses; shorter-lived greenhouse gases; and a 20-year “global warming potential“. The response was lukewarm, and I received no meaningful response to a subsequent email on the matter.

Here are some comments from the councilors’ reef video:

Hughes:

“The Great Barrier Reef is telling us that we must stop burning fossil fuels if we are to have a Great Barrier Reef that our children and grandchildren can enjoy in the future.”

Terrastendo: So the reef is telling us that? Why aren’t you telling us about the impact of diet?

Hughes:

“So what we’re seeing today is that some of the corals in this site have recovered from the bleaching but others haven’t. And the ones that have died have started to become covered in a greeny, browny, sludgey algae. And what we’re really worried about is that if bleaching keeps happening due to warming, then there’ll be less and less time for our reefs to recover.”

Terrastendo: Could that algae be caused by the run-off from cattle farms, which also reduces the coral’s resilience?

Here’s what the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority says (consistent with Jon Brodie’s comments referred to earlier):

“Most sediment entering the Great Barrier Reef comes from catchments in major pastoral areas such as the Burdekin, Herbert and Fitzroy rivers.”

“Changes in water quality affect the biodiversity and resilience of Reef systems. Higher concentrations of pollutants, such as suspended sediments, nitrogen and phosphorus, indicated by higher levels of chlorophyll and lower water clarity, leader [sic] to more algae and less coral diversity. In these conditions, algae take over and reduce the chances for new hard corals to establish and grow.”

McKenzie:

“Our request to you is simple; keep talking about the reef.”

Terrastendo: What, just talk about it? No need to avoid eating meat?

Flannery:

“It really is time to start making some noise again. So whether it’s around the dinner table, or at work or when you’re talking to your local politician, start talking about the reef. It’s too important to stay silent.”

Terrastendo: But still nothing about diet? Isn’t that important too? What are you eating at the dinner table?

The growing “tsunami” of land clearing in Queensland

As if all that’s not bad enough, land clearing in Queensland may be entering a new phase of growth, primarily driven by beef production. WWF has recently released a report with the title, “Accelerating bushland destruction in Queensland”.

It reported that the legislative changes of 2013 allow clearing of remnant bushland at unlimited scale under “self-assessable codes” for various purposes, when previously most such clearing had required a permit. One of those codes is thinning to correct supposed “thickening” of forests. WWF has stated (with my underline):

“Thinning in particular, allows the bulldozing of up to 75% of trees in a forest, leaving only a scatter of trees behind. It is merely clearing for pasture masquerading as a beneficial treatment.”

“The Queensland Government must tighten these codes as soon as possible to prevent the growing tsunami of land clearing in Queensland.”

The report includes the following map, showing notifications of 10 hectares or more under the self-assessable codes from end of July 2016 to February 2017. Those marked in purple are within the Great Barrier Reef catchment. The smaller icons indicate notifications of 1-10 hectares, while larger icons indicate notifications of more than 100 hectares. After adjusting for anomalies in the data, WWF reported that notifications jumped fifty per cent from January to February 2017.

Figure 4: Land clearing notifications in Queensland Jul 2016 – Feb 2017 (Interactive)

xx

Expansion of China-Australia Free Trade Agreement

In late March, 2017, Australian Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, jointly announced a major extension to the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement (ChAFTA), allowing an increase in chilled meat exports from Australia. The announcement was described as a “huge win” within the Australian beef sector, but at what cost for the country’s environment and other sectors of the economy, such as tourism?

Figure 5: Chinese Premier, Li Keqiang

The dramatic increase in livestock-related land clearing in Queensland and New South Wales, with its devastating environmental consequences, could have been strongly influenced by ChAFTA (the first phase of which was announced in November 2014) and its recent expansion. Australia’s response to the rapidly increasing demand for red meat in China could contribute significantly to the eventual demise of the Great Barrier Reef.

Queensland government helps by purchasing cattle station

The minority Labor government in Queensland, elected in 2015, had sought to reintroduce the ban on broadscale land clearing, but was unable to generate enough votes in parliament. So what else could it do?

In an effort to reduce erosion run-off from uncleared lands, it purchased the 56,000 hectare Springvale cattle station on Cape York (north-west of Port Douglas and twenty kilometres north of the Daintree National Park), with the intention of removing the cattle and rehabilitating the station’s stream and river banks and gullies. Here’s an ABC news bulletin from June 2016 (duration 2:24).

Video: ABC News: Queensland Government buys Cape York Cattle Property

As stated in the report, this one property has been responsible for forty per cent (500,000 tonnes) of sediment flowing into the Normanby River system. That system, in turn, contributes around fifty per cent of the total run off to the northern section of the reef. However, with 4,300 cattle, it has only a tiny percentage of the cattle population within the overall Great Barrier Reef catchment area, so it seems much more work is required. Environment minister, Steven Miles, has said the state may purchase additional properties that are also polluting the reef system.

A telling segment of the video shows a man walking through a massive gully (much taller than himself) created by generations of cattle grazing.

Conclusion

The massive extent of livestock production and its destructive environmental impacts are almost universally under-stated by environmental organisations, and conveniently ignored by governments looking to satisfy electorates with supposedly positive short-term economic news. With that sort of selective vision, the eventual outcomes may be catastrophic for our natural environment and the people and economies ultimately depending on its well-being. Any opportunity that may remain to avoid disaster is rapidly disappearing.

Author

Paul Mahony

Footnote

At 8,400 square metres, the area of a rugby field is 56 per cent larger than that of an American football field (5,363 square metres) and between 2 and 31 per cent larger than that of a FIFA soccer field (6,400 – 8,250 square metres).

References

Meat & Livestock Australia, “Fast Facts 2016: Australia’s Beef Industry”, https://www.mla.com.au/globalassets/mla-corporate/prices–markets/documents/trends–analysis/fast-facts–maps/mla_beef-fast-facts-2016.pdf

World Wide Fund for Nature (World Wildlife Fund), “WWF Living Forests Report”, Chapter 5 and Chapter 5 Executive Summary, http://d2ouvy59p0dg6k.cloudfront.net/downloads/lfr_chapter_5_executive_summary_final.pdf; http://d2ouvy59p0dg6k.cloudfront.net/downloads/living_forests_report_chapter_5_1.pdf

Queensland Department of Science, Information Technology and Innovation. 2015. Land cover change in Queensland 2012–13 and 2013–14: a Statewide Landcover and Trees Study (SLATS) report. DSITI, Brisbane, Table 4, p. 34

Queensland Department of Science, Information Technology and Innovation. 2016. Land cover change in Queensland 2014–15: a Statewide Landcover and Trees Study (SLATS) report. DSITI, Brisbane, Table 4, p. 21

Perry, N., “The NSW government is choosing to undermine native vegetation and biodiversity”, The Conversation, 9th May 2016, https://theconversation.com/the-nsw-government-is-choosing-to-undermine-native-vegetation-and-biodiversity-59066

Raper, A., “NSW Government laws to make it easier for farmers to clear land”, ABC News, 3rd May 2016, http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-05-03/nsw-government-spend-million-private-conservation-projects/7378118

New South Wales Government, “Legislation to repeal Native Vegetation Act passes NSW Parliament”, 17th November 2016, https://www.nsw.gov.au/news-and-events/news/legislation-to-repeal-native-vegetation-act-passes-nsw-parliament/

Brodie, J., “Cloudy issue: we need to fix the Barrier Reef’s murky waters”, The Conversation, 21st May 2015, https://theconversation.com/cloudy-issue-we-need-to-fix-the-barrier-reefs-murky-waters-39380

Kroon, F., Turner, R., Smith, R., Warne, M., Hunter, H., Bartley, R., Wilkinson, S., Lewis, S., Waters, D., Caroll, C., 2013 “Scientific Consensus Statement: Sources of sediment, nutrients, pesticides and other pollutants in the Great Barrier Reef Catchment”, Ch. 4, p. 12, The State of Queensland, Reef Water Quality Protection Plan Secretariat, July, 2013, http://www.reefplan.qld.gov.au/about/scientific-consensus-statement/sources-of-pollutants.aspx

Queensland Government, “Great Barrier Reef Report Card 2015: Reef water quality protection plan”, http://www.reefplan.qld.gov.au/measuring-success/report-cards/2015/ and http://www.reefplan.qld.gov.au/measuring-success/report-cards/2015/assets/gbr-2015report-card.pdf

The Climate Council of Australia, “Raise the reef”, 13th October 2016, http://www.climatecouncil.org.au/raise-the-reef

Manning, P., “Wrestling with a climate conundrum”, Sydney Morning Herald, 19th Feb 2011, http://www.smh.com.au/business/wrestling-with-a-climate-conundrum-20110218-1azhd.html#ixzz47IvGiZjp

De’ath, G., Katharina Fabricius, K.E., Sweatman, H., Puotinen, M., “The 27–year decline of coral cover on the Great Barrier Reef and its causes”, PNAS 2012 109 (44) 17995-17999; published ahead of print October 1, 2012, doi:10.1073/pnas.1208909109 (Cited in Brodie, J. ibid.), http://www.pnas.org/citmgr?gca=pnas%3B109%2F44%2F17995

The Climate Council of Australia, “From farm to plate to the atmosphere: food-related emissions”, 16th October 2016, http://www.climatecouncil.org.au/from-farm-to-plate-to-the-atmosphere-reducing-your-food-related-emissions

The Climate Council of Australia, “Feeding a Hungry Nation: Climate change, Food and Farming in Australia” by Lesley Hughes, Will Steffen, Martin Rice and Alix Pearce, 7th October 2015, http://www.climatecouncil.org.au/uploads/7579c324216d1e76e8a50095aac45d66.pdf and http://www.climatecouncil.org.au/foodsecurityreport2015

The Climate Council of Australia, “The Critical Decade: Queensland climate impacts and opportunities” by Will Steffen, Lesley Hughes, Veena Sahajwalla and Gerry Hueston, 2012, https://www.climatecouncil.org.au/queensland-climate-impacts-and-opportunities and https://www.climatecouncil.org.au/uploads/d71d70af18c737ae9f175598c831ae45.pdf

Beyond Zero Emissions and Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute of The University of Melbourne, “Zero Carbon Australia – Land Use: Agriculture and Forestry – Discussion Paper”, October, 2014, http://bze.org.au/landuse

Australian Government, Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, “Managing the reef”, undated, http://www.gbrmpa.gov.au/managing-the-reef/threats-to-the-reef/declining-water-quality

Australian Government, Australian Institute of Marine Science, “Backgrounder: Impact of land runoff”, undated, http://www.aims.gov.au/impact-of-runoff

World Wide Fund for Nature, “Accelerating bushland destruction in Queensland: Clearing under Self Assessable Codes takes major leap upward”, March 2017, http://www.wwf.org.au/ArticleDocuments/360/pub-accelerating-bushland-destruction-in-queensland-21mar17.pdf.aspx?Embed=Yx

Barbour, L. and Locke, S., “Australian meat industry wins better access to lucrative Chinese market”, ABC News, 24th March 2017, http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-03-24/nrn-more-chilled-beef-to-china/8379284

Phys.org, “Australian state buys cattle station to help Barrier Reef”, 22nd June 2016, https://phys.org/news/2016-06-australian-state-cattle-station-barrier.html

Willacy, M., ABC News, “Great Barrier Reef: Queensland Government buys $7m cattle station in ‘unprecedented’ protection bid”, 28th June 2016, http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-06-22/great-barrier-reef-government-buys-cattle-station-protection-bid/7533216

Thomsen, S., “The Queensland government just spent $7 million buying a huge farm to stop run-off into the Great Barrier Reef”, 22nd June 2016, https://www.businessinsider.com.au/the-queensland-government-just-spent-7-million-buying-a-huge-farm-to-stop-run-off-into-the-great-barrier-reef-2016-6

The State of Queensland, “Springvale Station”, undated, https://www.qld.gov.au/environment/plants-animals/community/springvale-station/
The State of Queensland (Department of Environment and Heritage Protection) 2017, Plan of Springvale Station, http://www.ehp.qld.gov.au/assets/documents/plants-animals/community/springvale-station-map.pdf

Slaney & Co, “Springvale Station, Lakeland: Largescale irrigated farming opportunity” (Property ID #1297) (accessed 24th March 2017), http://www.slaneyandco.com.au/property/large-scale-irrigated-farming-opportunity/

Images

NASA Goddard Space Flight Center | Heavy Sediment along the Queensland Coast | Flickr | Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

Climate Council of Australia, “Raise the Reef”, op cit., Creative Commons attribution 3.0 Australia license (CC By 3.0 AU) (Climate Council reports note that “Climate Council of Australia Ltd copyright material is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Australia License.”)

Map of landclearing notifications in Queensland, Notifications of 10 ha or more under Queensland’s Self-Assessable clearing codes from end of July 2016 to Feb 2017, by lots on plans, https://www.google.com/maps/d/viewer?mid=1L3revYC3nAXTLDCTlobq-0nbQ6c&ll=-21.577549828025017%2C146.4797608751221&z=6

World Economic Forum | The Global Impact of China’s Economic Transformation: Li Keqiang | Flickr | 21st January 2015 | Creative Commons NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Video

WWF, “ABC News: Qld Government buys Cape York Cattle Property”, 23rd June 2016, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mdNQC-X8vfs

Update

For clarity, the term “the overall area” has been replaced with “the figures” in the fourth paragraph.

5th August 2017: Two paragraphs have been amended to clarify the fact that erosion from cattle grazing occurs on uncleared, as well as cleared, land (consistent with many of my previous articles).

shutterstock_141409255

Australian Pork Limited (APL) is an industry organisation that describes itself as “the producer owned organisation supporting and promoting the Australian pork industry”.

Despite potential bias, the organisation is seemingly permitted to supply “educational” material to kindergartens and schools as part of its “Pigs in Schools” program. [1] [2] This article comments on its publication for Foundation – Year 2 levels (generally ages 4-7) and also refers to APL-provided feedback from a teacher on material prepared for older students. [3]

Promotional and other videos

In February 2016, APL published a video (Video 1 below) of teacher Kiara Edwards from Mt Compass Area School in South Australia, praising the APL material. Ms Edwards is clearly a committed and enthusiastic teacher, seemingly with a strong background in certain aspects of animal agriculture. However, in respect of pigs, she may have been over-reliant on material supplied by APL.

Despite admitting to having almost no knowledge of pigs before receiving the APL material, Ms Edwards seemed convinced, after watching an APL promotional video contained within the package (Video 2 below), that material produced by animal activist groups was inaccurate. Here’s some of what she said:

“One [resource] that stood out to me just allowed the kids to be able to see it from a different point of view, that not everything they see on TV and read in the newspaper is true and correct. There was a really good video that was in the package where I set it up with the kids. They had the video that was put up by an animal activist group. I played that video. I got the kids to go through that video and say right, what do we think about pig farming, and this was the start of my lesson, and they said, you know, they just listened to that video, and then in the resource pack, they actually had the farmer’s point of view.

[Cross to video of pig farmer, Ean Pollard, sitting amongst hay bales and piglets, talking about the night activists had filmed inside one of his sheds.]

And our eyes were just amazed to think that, you know, wow . . .  what you hear isn’t happening in the pork industry and they are so proactive in what they’re doing, so they’re really, really good resources. I’d recommend them to anybody.”

She was also clearly impressed with industry personnel (with my underline):

“They’re the only industry that have really got their resources spot on, like with resources and being able to contact people like Popey, like just on the call.” [“Popey” may have been Graeme Pope of Graeme Pope Consulting, founder of the South Australian Future Pork Network and a quality auditor for APL.] [Footnote 1]

It seems Ms Edwards is comfortable with the idea of the students using marking paint on live piglets to demonstrate the “main cuts”:

“So they [the kids] do art in terms of they go and we learn the parts of a pig and then when they get big enough we go out and we get some marking paint and they do the main cuts and all that.”

That activity helped to support her focus on a cross-curricular approach to studying pigs, including art.

She seems similarly comfortable with the practice of naming the piglets, then sending them to slaughter and selling and eating the end “product”:

“And what we do is we actually sell the meat.

[Cross to image of pig meat.]

We get it processed at an abattoir, then it goes to our local butcher, and then we sell the fresh pork to the staff, and there’s a waiting list so we can’t get enough of it and it’s delicious and it’s great because the kids set up – we do a cost analogy [sic] on how much, like, the input costs, they work out how much profit they would like to make, which sometimes is a lot because they think it buys them all sorts of good things but, and then we scale it down and work out that, hang on, this is actually going home to parents and all that, and yeah, they sell the pork. They actually go to the, um, when the pork is getting sold.

We bring it here. The customer or consumer comes direct here and we let them know about the pork, what the pigs were like, they name them and that sort of stuff, so it’s a bit of paddock to plate all the way through and the kids absolutely love it so it’s really good.”

Here’s the video featuring Kiara Edwards (duration 9:28).

APL Promotional Video 1 (discussing “Pigs in Schools” program)

I’d like to have seen some empathy for the piglets, who are in the school’s care for ten weeks at a time, but it was not apparent.

Here’s the promotional video (duration 2:44) referred to earlier, which is included in the kit supplied to schools. Ean Pollard concludes the video with these words: “If we can’t produce pork in God’s country, God knows where we’re gonna get it from.”

APL Promotional Video 2 (included in school kit)

The keeper of the “maternity ward” in Video 2 says, “And did you know over a million piglets Australia-wide are saved by having these farrowing crates”. That’s the annual figure according to the APL educational material and a separate “fact sheet“. [4] No verification has been supplied in either document. It may be an adventurous claim in the context of between 4.5 and 5 million pigs born in Australia each year. In nature, the problem is almost non-existent, as described by author Jeffrey Masson in his book “The Pig who sang to the Moon” [5]:

“In the wild, . . . sows getting ready to give birth will often construct protective nests as high as three feet. They line these farrowing nests with mouthfuls of grass and sometimes even manage to construct a roof made of sticks – a safe and comfortable home-like structure. On modern pig farms, where the mother is forced to give birth on concrete floors, her babies are often crushed when she rolls over. This never happens in the wild because the baby simply slips through the nest and finds her way back to her own teat.”

A video from Animal Liberation ACT, reported to be of Mr Pollard’s Lansdowne piggery, was prepared in response to APL Video 2. [6] The video focused on the farrowing crate area of the piggery (with plenty of steel and concrete but no hay). Images were also released, including the group housing area.

Selection of images from Animal Liberation ACT reportedly from Ean Pollard’s Lansdowne piggery

Go to bottom of page. WARNING: Graphic images.

Animal Liberation ACT Video

Here is Animal Liberation ACT’s video of the farrowing crate area (duration 7:17). WARNING: Graphic footage.

xx

Teachers as co-learners

The “Educational Unit” booklet contains the following rhetorical teacher’s question:

“I don’t know much about pork production myself – will I be able to teach it effectively?”

Answer:

“Yes! The unit is designed in such a way that you, as the teacher are a co-learner and you are provided with teacher notes, plus the resources are mainly web-based and are readily available. Most importantly, you will find that you learn with the students and make discoveries with them.”

So teachers may depend entirely on what an organisation, established for the purpose of supporting and promoting the pig meat industry, tells it.

Is that the sort of education we want in Australia?

Looking after pigs

The booklet refers glowingly to the euphemistically-titled Model Code of Practice for the Welfare of Animals (Pigs). Epitomising the world of political doublespeak, the “welfare” code (reflected in exemptions to state-based “prevention of cruelty to animals” legislation) permits the following horrendously cruel practices, most of which apply routinely to the vast majority of pigs used for food:

  • life-long confinement indoors;
  • confinement in a sow stall, with insufficient room to turn around, for up to 16.5 weeks, day and night;
  • confinement in a farrowing crate, with insufficient room to turn around or interact with piglets, for up to 6 weeks, day and night;
  • tail docking without anaesthetic;
  • ear notching without anaesthetic;
  • teeth clipping without anaesthetic;
  • castration without anaesthetic.

APL’s so-called voluntary ban on sow stalls, scheduled to commence this year (and already implemented by many member establishments but possibly irrelevant to non-members), will still allow them to be used for up to eleven days per pregnancy, and will not be binding on individual producers. In any event, the ability to monitor compliance must be questionable.

The industry has not indicated any action in respect of farrowing crates, which are even more restrictive than sow stalls. In its educational material, APL states, “a farrowing stall allows a sow to stand up, lie down and stretch out . . .”. But they cannot turn around. They cannot interact with their piglets. They cannot behave naturally. It sounds like hell on earth.

In his video appearance referred to earlier, Ean Pollard said:

“You may have seen some footage that activists have taken of sows [in sow stalls] that have been woken up early in the morning, and expected to be fed. And then when they weren’t fed, they got upset. So how would you feel if someone came into your bedroom in the early hours of the morning and woke you up.”

My answer is that I would not be happy, but I’d be far less happy if I spent 24 hours per day for sixteen weeks locked in an indoor cage that was so small, I couldn’t even turn around. I would also not be happy living my entire life indoors. Being woken in the early hours would be the least of my worries.

Sustainability

The booklet and Video 1 also commented on sustainability aspects of pig meat production, with the issue said to be “the dominant cross curriculum perspective”. The booklet claims: “GHG [greenhouse gas] emissions produced by the pork industry are significantly lower than other agricultural sectors, such as beef cattle, dairy cattle and sheep.”

It’s amusing that they chose the highest-emitting agricultural sectors to compare themselves against. Here’s how the emissions intensity of pig meat compares to that of some plant-based options, noting that soybeans contain more high-quality protein per kilogram than pig meat. [7] [Footnotes 2 and 3] (The term “GWP” relates to the global warming potential of different greenhouse gases measured over 100-year or 20-year time horizons.)

Figure 1: Emissions intensity per kg protein (kg CO2-e/kg protein)

Video 1 (referred to earlier) included Edwina Beveridge of Blantyre Farms demonstrating some aspects of her establishment’s biogas facility, whereby methane from effluent ponds is used to produce electricity. Such facilities are not widespread. In any event, the methane they use (which is a potent greenhouse gas) would not exist if consumers utilised plant-based options rather than pig meat.

Also, nitrous oxide emitted from manure, along with any fugitive methane emissions from the biogas process, would almost certainly offset any reduction in carbon dioxide emissions achieved by the farm using self-generated electricity. The respective global warming impacts of nitrous oxide and methane are 268 and 86 times that of carbon dioxide when measured over a 20-year time horizon. The figures are 298 and 34 over a 100-year time horizon.

The grossly and inherently inefficient nature of animal-based nutrition is also a major concern. It takes 5.7 kilograms of plant-based protein to create 1 kilogram of pig meat protein, with the result that far more resources, including land, are used than would otherwise be required. [8] That has major implications for forested areas such as the Amazon and Cerrado regions of South America, where most of the soy bean production that contributes to land clearing is destined for pigs and other farm animals. The clearing increases the likelihood of tipping points being breached and runaway climate change being triggered, over which we will have virtually no control. The trade in soy beans is global, with demand in any one country contributing to the overall extent of land clearing, including the clearing in South America.

Relatively high water usage and massive amounts of effluent (whether or not used in biogas production) are other key issues for pig meat establishments.

Promoting Australian pork: “Get some pork on your fork”

The educational booklet points out (possibly with despair) that 65 per cent of processed pig meat sold in Australia “is made from frozen boneless pork imported from places like Denmark, Canada and the United States”.

It then tells the teachers and students how to identify the Australian product.

That could be a strong example of the possible promotional intent of APL’s education kits.

In line with its major “get some pork on your fork” advertising campaign, on one page of the educational booklet’s teacher notes, there are four references to getting product from farm to fork. The line between advertising, PR and “education” appears to be extremely thin.

Healthy eating?

The booklet identifies a key activity in the form of investigating concepts and ideas about how food produced by pigs can be prepared for healthy eating.

Contrary to that notion, World Cancer Research Fund International (WCRF International) published its Second Expert Report in 2007, titled “Food, Nutrition, Physical Activity, and the Prevention of Cancer: a Global Perspective”. The report was issued jointly with one of WCRF’s network members, the American Institute for Cancer Research. [9]

The report contained recommendations relating to red and processed meat (Recommendation 5, Chapter 12). For the purpose of the analysis, beef, pork, lamb, and goat were all considered to be forms of red meat. Processed meat consisted of meat preserved by smoking, curing or salting, or addition of chemical preservatives. Such meat includes ham and bacon.

WCRF International stated (p. 382):

“The evidence that red meat is a cause of colorectal cancer is convincing. The evidence that processed meat is a cause of colorectal cancer is also convincing.” (The “convincing” category is WCRF’s strongest.)

WCRF UK has stated:

“The Panel of Experts could find no amount of processed meat that can be confidently shown not to increase cancer risk. That is why WCRF UK recommends people avoid processed meat to reduce their bowel cancer risk.” [10]

As part of WCRF International’s Continuous Update Project, in 2010, a research team at Imperial College London produced an updated systematic literature review of the evidence from 263 new papers on food, nutrition and physical activity. [11] WCRF International’s Expert Panel considered the updated evidence and agreed that the findings confirmed or strengthened the convincing and probable conclusions of the Second Expert Report for colorectal cancer.

One of WCRF’s key recommendations is to eat mostly foods of plant origin.

Similar findings on red and processed meat were reported in 2015 by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), an agency of the World Health Organization (WHO). In reporting the findings, Harvard University stated [12]:

“Consumption of processed meat was classified as carcinogenic and red meat as probably carcinogenic after the IARC Working Group – comprised of 22 scientists from ten countries – evaluated over 800 studies. Conclusions were primarily based on the evidence for colorectal cancer. Data also showed positive associations between processed meat consumption and stomach cancer, and between red meat consumption and pancreatic and prostate cancer.”

Processed red meats, such as bacon, sausage, salami and deli meats, are also associated with much higher risk of heart disease. [13]

Quality assurance and Oliver’s Piggery

APL is the owner and managing agent of the Australian Pork Industry Quality Assurance Program (APIQ). The questionable validity of this industry self audit process was highlighted in the 2009 case of Olivers Piggery in Tasmania.

Just three months before visits by animal activists and police, the piggery was inspected by an APIQ auditor. According to presenter Liam Bartlett in Channel 9’s60 Minutes” episode “The Hidden Truth”, the auditor gave the piggery “the all-clear”. [14] He said it was only a clerical error by Mr Oliver that prevented the piggery from being accredited by APL. A court convicted Mr Oliver and the company that operated the piggery with animal cruelty.

At the time the activists recorded their video, Mr Oliver was appearing in brochures as one of Woolworths “fresh food people”. The business had been supplying Woolworths for ten years, and was supplying 20 per cent of the fresh pork sold in its Tasmanian supermarkets.

A shareholder and director of the company operating the piggery was a board member of APL.

APL Disclaimer

Perhaps wisely, APL has included this comment in a disclaimer within the educational booklet (with my underlines):

“. . . While APL has no reason to believe that the information contained in this publication is inaccurate, APL is unable to guarantee the accuracy of the information . . . The information contained in this publication should not be relied upon for any purpose . . .”

A similar disclaimer appeared in Video 1.

Conclusion

Parents and children place enormous trust in educational institutions. To subject children to biased promotional material in support of a profit-oriented industry group is an extremely questionable practice that each state’s education and agriculture departments need to address.

Author

Paul Mahony

Related article

Meat, the environment and industry brainwashing (relating to a similar exercise by Meat & Livestock Australia in support of cattle meat, sheep meat and goat meat producers)

Footnotes

  1. Graeme Pope’s industry bio states (with my underline) that he “has a strong interest in working with rural media and agricultural students to improve the public image of commercial pork production”.
  2. The protein-based emissions intensity figures for pig meat shown here (from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations) are higher than estimates I have conservatively reported elsewhere, where I chose not to adjust for yield.
  3. Pulses comprise chickpeas, lentils, dried beans and dried peas. Along with soybeans, peanuts, fresh beans and fresh peas, they are members of the “legume” food group.

Resources

Vegetarian Starter Kit (Animals Australia)

Vegan Easy (Animal Liberation Victoria)

Vegan Australia

Update

Comments on land clearing added on 13th March 2017

References

[1] Australian Pork Limited, Library and Resources, Units, http://australianpork.com.au/library-resources/education-toolkit/units/

[2] Australian Pork Limited, Media Release, “APL Serves up new teaching resource”, 9th January 2017, http://australianpork.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/Media_Release_APL-Serves-up-new-teaching-resource-_9-January-2017.pdf

[3] Australian Pork Limited, “An Educational Unit for Foundation – Year 2: Investigating pigs and what they produce”, http://australianpork.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/APL-Foundation-Year-2-Unit_13_lr.pdf

[4] Australian Pork Limited, “Get the facts on your pork industry”, undated, http://australianpork.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/1113329_AustralianPork_Final-Cover_1-2_AustralianPork_Inner_1-2_Page-PDF-LoRes.pdf

[5] Masson, J.M., “The pig who sang to the moon: The emotional world of farm animals”, Ballantine, 2005

[6] Aussie Pigs, Lansdowne Piggery, http://www.aussiepigs.com/piggeries/lansdowne

[7] Derived from: (a) MacLeod, M., Gerber, P., Mottet, A., Tempio, G., Falcucci, A., Opio, C., Vellinga, T., Henderson, B. and Steinfeld, H. 2013. Greenhouse gas emissions from pig and chicken supply chains – A global life cycle assessment. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), Rome, Table 32, p. 68 [Pig meat]; (b) Gerber, P.J., Steinfeld, H., Henderson, B., Mottet, A., Opio, C., Dijkman, J., Falcucci, A. & Tempio, G. 2013. Tackling climate change through livestock – A global assessment of emissions and mitigation opportunities. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), Rome, Figure 18, p. 35 [Pig meat]; (c) Scarborough, P., Appleby, P.N., Mizdrak, A., Briggs, A.D.M., Travis, R.C., Bradbury, K.E., & Key, T.J., “Dietary greenhouse gas emissions of meat-eaters, fish-eaters, vegetarians and vegans in the UK”, Climatic Change, DOI 10.1007/s10584-014-1169-1 [Pulses and soybeans] (d) Myhre, G., D. Shindell, F.-M. Bréon, W. Collins, J. Fuglestvedt, J. Huang, D. Koch, J.-F. Lamarque, D. Lee, B. Mendoza, T. Nakajima, A. Robock, G. Stephens, T. Takemura and H. Zhang, 2013: “Anthropogenic and Natural Radiative Forcing. In: Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group 1 to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change” , Table 8.7, p. 714 [Stocker, T.F., D. Qin, G.-K. Plattner, M. Tignor, S.K. Allen, J. Boschung, A. Nauels, Y. Xia, V. Bex and P.M. Midgley (eds.)]. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA, http://www.ipcc.ch/report/ar5/wg1/ [GWP]

[8] Tilman, D., Clark, M., “Global diets link environmental sustainability and human health”, Nature515, 518–522 (27 November 2014) doi:10.1038/nature13959, Extended Data Table 7 “Protein conversion ratios of livestock production systems”, http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v515/n7528/full/nature13959.html#t7

[9] World Cancer Research Fund / American Institute for Cancer Research, “Food, Nutrition, Physical Activity, and the Prevention of Cancer: a Global Perspective”, Washington DC: AICR, 2007, http://www.dietandcancerreport.org/expert_report/report_contents/index.php and http://www.dietandcancerreport.org/cancer_resource_center/downloads/Second_Expert_Report_full.pdf, Chapter 12

[10] World Cancer Research Fund UK, “Informed – Issue 36, Winter 2009”, http://www.wcrf-uk.org/cancer_prevention/health_professionals/informed_articles/processed_meat.php

[11] World Cancer Research Fund International, Colorectal Cancer, Latest Evidence, http://www.dietandcancerreport.org/cup/current_progress/colorectal_cancer.php

[12] Harvard University, T.H. Chan School of Public Health, “WHO report says eating processed meat is carcinogenic: Understanding the findings”, undated, https://www.hsph.harvard.ed/nutritionsource/2015/11/03/report-says-eating-processed-meat-is-carcinogenic-understanding-the-findings/

[13] Pendick, D., “New study links L-carnitine in red meat to heart disease”, Harvard Health Publications – Harvard Medical School, 17th April, 2013, http://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/new-study-links-l-carnitine-in-red-meat-to-heart-disease-201304176083

[14] 60 Minutes, Nine Network, “The Hidden Truth”, 20th November, 2009

Images

School children in classroom at lesson © Oksana Kuzmina | Shutterstock

Aussie Pigs, Lansdowne Piggery, http://www.aussiepigs.com/piggeries/lansdowne/photos

Selection of images from Animal Liberation ACT reportedly from Ean Pollard’s Lansdowne piggery

WARNING: Graphic images.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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Director general of the International Livestock Research Institute, Dr Jimmy Smith, seems to have got it wrong a couple of times when commenting on dietary choices.

Speaking on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s Radio National Breakfast program in 2013, he sought to perpetuate the so-called “protein myth” in favour of livestock production, ignoring the fact that soybeans (for example) contain around thirty-five per cent more protein per kilogram than beef, with all the essential amino acids. [1] [2]

Then in August 2016, he appeared to misstate the findings of an analysis published the previous month in the journal Elementa. [3] [4] The researchers on that occasion had found that the vegan diet (which excludes all animal products) required the least amount of land (per person fed and in absolute terms) out of ten alternative dietary scenarios. However, Smith claimed in the Guardian that the researchers had found that the vegan diet fell behind certain other diets (including some containing meat) on that measure.

Here’s a chart from the researcher’s paper, showing the vegan diet on the right.

Figure 1: Annual per capita requirements for productive agricultural land by diet scenario and category of land use

elementa-000116-f002

Seven of the diets that were analysed included meat. The best-performing of those required nearly twice as much land per person as the vegan diet, while the worst-performing required more than eight times as much. The vegetarian diets, including dairy and/or egg, required nearly eight per cent more land per person than the vegan diet.

While four of the diets were able to feed between 2.3 and 9.7  per cent more people than the vegan diet, the researchers did not analyse consequences in terms of human health, planetary health (along with resultant food production impacts), biodiversity loss or the impact on food production animals themselves. The purpose of the analysis was to compare, firstly, per capita land requirements and secondly, potential carrying capacity as measured by the number of people fed.

Even on the second measure, the vegan diet performed extremely well. The research was based on the US food system, where the authors estimated that a vegan diet could support a population nearly 2.4 times the 2010 figure (although there was no suggestion we should aim for such a population level). The five worst-performing diets based on that measure, all containing meat and other animal products, would feed between 9 and 45 per cent fewer people than the vegan diet.

In the same Guardian article, Smith said that other research had found that medium levels of livestock grazing, rather than none at all, were better for the health, productivity and biodiversity of certain rangelands. [5] However, the cited paper did not consider the zero livestock grazing option.

The same problem applied to his assertion (citing material from the Food & Agriculture Organization of the United Nations) that such areas sequester large amounts of carbon in their soils when managed well. [6]

Smith acknowledged livestock-related problems concerning: resource usage (including water); greenhouse gas emissions; human health (including obesity); infectious disease; overuse of antibiotics; and animal welfare. He argued that such problems should not cause us to “turn away from livestock”, noting that the problems are “being addressed today in multi-institutional initiatives”.

However, the problems are so great that the outcome of those “multi-institutional initiatives” might only represent some tinkering around the edges, with little or no meaningful benefit.

In addition to a general transition away from animal products, the solution may include what The Pew Charitable Trusts have referred to in the Australian context as “alternative economic options to pay for stewardship on pastoral properties”, including “the valuing of land management as a vital contribution to a sustainable Australia”. They have reported on the extensive economic and ecological benefits that have been derived from the introduction of indigenous ranger groups and the declaration of indigenous protected areas across huge regions.

They have also highlighted the improved conditions created when pastoralists have transitioned from grazing to ecotourism. Here’s a before-and-after photo showing the “slow but sure regeneration of saltbush and other native vegetation” on the Western Australian property of David Pollock and Frances Jones, Wooleen Station. [7]

wooleenstation_regeneration_suevittori

To encourage reduced consumption of animal products, governments could introduce appropriate pricing signals, with related tax revenues being returned to the community through personal income tax reductions and adjustments to welfare payments.

Author

Paul Mahony

References

[1] ABC Radio National Breakfast, “Feeding a hungry world”, 17th September 2013, http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/breakfast/feeding-a-hungry-world/4961802

[2] USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference at http://www.nal.usda.gov/fnic/foodcomp/search/http://www.nal.usda.gov/fnic/foodcomp/search/ via Nutrition Data at http://www.nutritiondata.com

[3] Smith, J., “Veganism is not the key to sustainable development – natural resources are vital”, The Guardian, 16th August 2016, https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2016/aug/16/veganism-not-key-sustainable-development-natural-resources-jimmy-smith

[4] Peters, C.J., Picardy, J., Darrouzet-Nardi, A.F., Wilkins, J.L., Griffin, T.S., Fick, G.W., Carrying capacity of U.S. agricultural land: Ten diet scenarios“, Elementa, https://www.elementascience.org/articles/10.12952/journal.elementa.000116/

[5] Conant, R. T., and K. Paustian, “Potential soil carbon sequestration in overgrazed grassland ecosystems”, Global Biogeochem. Cycles, 16(4), 1143, doi:10.1029/2001GB001661, 2002

[6] Gerber, P.J., Steinfeld, H., Henderson, B., Mottet, A., Opio, C., Dijkman, J., Falcucci, A. & Tempio, G., 2013, “Tackling climate change through livestock – A global assessment of emissions and mitigation opportunities”, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), Rome, http://www.fao.org/ag/againfo/resources/en/publications/tackling_climate_change/index.htm

[7] Woinarski, J., Traill, B., Booth, C., “The Modern Outback: Nature, people, and the future of remote Australia”, The Pew Charitable Trusts, October 2014, p. 206-212, including image © Sue Vittori (p. 210), http://www.pewtrusts.org/en/research-and-analysis/reports/2014/10/the-modern-outback

Images

International Livestock Research Institute (Paul Karaimu), “Jimmy Smith, director general of ILRI”, Flickr, 2nd June 2011, Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Peters, C.J., et al., op. cit., Figure 2, Creative Commons Attribution License

Wooleen Station © Sue Vittori, from Woinarski, J., et al., “The Modern Outback”, op. cit., p. 210, used with permission

Updates

  • The words “per person” have been added twice to the first paragraph below Figure 1. [18th February, 2016]
  • The third paragraph below Figure 1 has been extended to include a comment on the five worst-performing diets (all animal-based) in terms of the number of people fed. [18th February, 2016]
  • The third paragraph of the article has been amended to refer to the amount of land “per person fed and in absolute terms”. [23rd February, 2016]
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