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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 phosphorus) 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, and the pre-1985 reduction being 54 per cent rather than 57 per cent. 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/latest-news/coral-bleaching/2017/significant-coral-decline-and-habitat-loss-on-the-great-barrier-reef

[5] Professor Terry Hughes on Twitter, 20th and 21st May 2017, https://twitter.com/ProfTerryHughes/status/866155996078522368

[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 phosphorus 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

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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/

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

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, http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs10584-014-1169-1

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/

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.

26598176002_10e33f86d7_o

It may be easy to assume that an organisation with the word “youth” in the title is progressive. However, there have been exceptions in the past, and sadly, it seems there are today.

I have commented previously on Australian Youth Climate Coalition’s failure to adequately consider the impact of a major contributor to climate change, animal agriculture. [1]

This article focuses on Youth Food Movement Australia (YFM) and its collaborations with Meat & Livestock Australia (MLA).

What are YFM’s mission and objectives?

Something I find a little confusing is that YFM has two mission statements.

Mission Statement as described on YFM’s website:

“To build a healthy and secure food future for all Australians.” [2]

Mission Statement as described on YFM’s 2015 annual statement to the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC):

“To grow a generation of young Australians empowered with the ability to make healthy and sustainable food choices.” [3]

The first is far broader than the second, with no hint as to which one actually applies. Neither seems to be adequately supported by the organisation’s actions, as referred to below.

YFM’s objectives (with my underlines):

Educate and empower Consumers to make informed decisions regarding food systems; including, health, environmental, biodiversity and equitable [sic] issues surrounding how food is bought, consumed and disposed of locally and in Australia.

Facilitate and organise networks and events for Producers and Consumers to strengthen individual activism and community projects and to raise awareness of food related issues as a platform for knowledge exchange and communication.

Publically [sic] advocate and make written submissions on issues of food sustainability and equality on behalf of Producers and Consumers to any Commonwealth, State of [sic] any other governmental authority or tribunal to further the advancement of food policy in Australia. [3]

That may be a mouthful, but YFM seems to be claiming it is concerned about:

  • human health;
  • the environment, including sustainability and biodiversity;
  • equity (assuming that’s what it means when referring to “equitable issues” and “equality”).

The objectives raise a key question:

As part of its objective to “educate” consumers, why does YFM largely ignore the negative impacts of animal agriculture on animals, the planet, human health and social justice?

The social justice issue partially arises from the fact that animal agriculture is a grossly and inherently inefficient way to obtain our nutritional requirements. A 2013 paper from the Institute on the Environment at the University of Minnesota indicated [4]:

“The world’s croplands could feed 4 billion more people than they do now just by shifting from producing animal feed and biofuels to producing exclusively food for human consumption.”

Animal feed crops represent 90% of that figure (in turn representing 3.6 billion people), and biofuels only 10%.

Although the authors were not advocating for another 4 billion people, the transition would enable us to feed the nearly 800 million people who are chronically under-nourished, provided we were willing to share the benefits fairly. [5]

YFM’s failure to adequately consider livestock’s negative impacts is particularly concerning when it states:

“We simply advocate for the importance of understanding your food.”

It claims that two of its values are authenticity and transparency, but are they evident?

Contrived PR?

YFM seems to try hard to match its language to that of its target market, but I find it tiresome and contrived. Here’s an example from its “Spoonled” anti-waste page:

“Gen-Y (18-30) we’re lookin’ at’choo.”

Is this really young people talking to young people, or could external PR consultants be involved, such as those used extensively by MLA? [Footnote 1]

Another example was this response when I asked on Twitter about YFM’s 2015 “beefjam” collaboration with MLA (as referred to below):

#beefjam is a project collaboration with @Target100AUS amazeballs crew.”

Amazeballs?

Really?

YFM’s Collaborations with Meat & Livestock Australia

YFM has collaborated with MLA in two exercises; a project known as “Beefjam” and a three-day visit to Bangor Farm in Tasmania. Both were organised in conjunction with MLA through its Target 100 initiative, which it claims involves “100 research, development and extension activities covering soil, water, energy, pests and weeds, biodiversity, emissions and animal welfare”.

I comment on both projects below, but firstly, it’s important to consider some aspects of MLA.

The organisation describes itself as:

“the marketing, research and development body for Australia’s red meat and livestock industry”. [6]

Is the marketing role compatible with legitimate research and development?

The question may be particularly relevant when, in the same description, MLA states (with my underlines):

“MLA’s core focus is to deliver value to its 50,000 levy paying members by:

growing demand for red meat; and

– improving profitability, sustainability and global competitiveness.”

I have challenged material from MLA in my articles “Meat, the environment and industry brainwashing“, “An industry shooting itself in the foot over “Cowspiracy” and “Emissions intensity of Australian beef“.

In the first of those (as an example), I commented on a so-called “curriculum guide” created by MLA for primary school students.

I argued that the guide:

  • inadequately allowed for livestock related water use, land clearing, land degradation (including erosion), loss of habitat and loss of biodiversity;
  • misstated the ability of livestock’s direct emissions to be absorbed by the biosphere;
  • ignored the very significant global warming impact of those emissions; and
  • misstated the extent of modern ruminant livestock numbers relative to historic figures.

I concluded with concern about the PR machine of an industry group such as MLA seeking to influence the thoughts and actions of children via publications represented as legitimate educational tools.

MLA has not limited its reach to the class room, and YFM may represent another means of extending its audience using sophisticated PR techniques.

Beefjam

The Beefjam project occurred in mid-2015. Here’s how YFM described it (with my underlines):

“BeefJam is a 3-day event that takes young producers and consumers on a crash course of the Australian beef supply chain and gives them 48hrs to reshape the way we grow, buy and eat our red meat.

Fifteen lucky applicants – 8 young consumers and 7 young producers – were given the chance to see, hear, smell and touch the whole Australian beef supply chain. That means all the different stages a piece of meat will travel through before it reaches your plate. From farm, to feedlot, to processor (you might know that as an abattoir) and then to retailer, ‘Jammers’ were able to experience the whole system, but also given the opportunity to ask big questions about how we feed ourselves, and the world, as we move into a food-challenged future.

BeefJam culminated with a 48 hour ‘jam’ where young producers and consumers collectively designed and prototyped solutions to challenges surrounding Australian beef.”

It may be insightful that a cow or lamb enjoying a warm day in an open field could be considered “a piece of meat”.

In its article about a visit to a slaughterhouse, we were presented with a photo of twenty-one mostly smiling faces, decked out in biosecurity gear, ready to check out the process. [7] YFM and MLA did not choose a “run of the mill” slaughterhouse for the visit. It was the Stanbroke Pastoral Company slaughterhouse, which the organisation’s website indicates is in the Lockyer Valley, Queensland. According to Stanbroke, it “sets world standards in equipment methods and technology”.

Regardless of what the attendees were shown, no animals at the facility or elsewhere choose to have a bolt gun fired into their skull, then hoisted by a rear leg for the purpose of having their throat cut.

Yet a Beefjam participant in a related video tells us repeatedly that slaughterhouse workers “respect” the animals.

That type of respect is something I could do without.

Some other points YFM and MLA did not raise with Beefjam attendees

Mark Pershin is the founder and CEO of climate change campaign group Less Meat Less Heat. He attended Beefjam, and I asked him about the information the attendees had been provided in their exploration of “the whole Australian beef supply chain”. Sadly, YFM and MLA said nothing about the following issues:

  • the extent of land cleared in Australia for beef production;
  • cattle’s impact on land degradation, biodiversity loss and introduction of invasive grass species;
  • legalised cruelty, such as castration; dehorning; disbudding; and hot iron branding (usually performed without anaesthetic).

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MLA claims to be concerned about sustainability, which it suggests includes (in an unusual interpretation of the term) “good animal welfare”. [Footnote 2] Here’s what they’ve said (with my underline) [8]:

“Australian cattle and sheep farmers are committed to producing beef and lamb sustainably . . . For Australia’s cattle and sheep farmers, sustainability isn’t only about the environment, it’s also about good animal welfare, contributing to their local communities, and ensuring that cattle and sheep farming is economically viable for future generations.”

Do the practices described above represent good animal welfare? They may be legal, but that simply means that governments around Australia consider animal cruelty to be an acceptable outcome of producing various types of food we do not need.

In relation to beef production’s environmental impacts, Beefjam attendees were addressed by Steve Wiedemann, who at that time was a principal consultant with FSA Consulting. The firm provides services to the agriculture sector, describing itself as “Australia’s predominant environmental consultancy for intensive livestock industries, environmental and natural resource management and water supply and irrigation”.

Wiedemann was the corresponding author of the paper I commented on in my article “Emissions intensity of Australian beef“, as referred to earlier. [9] [10] I highlighted the following concerns about that paper and/or the related promotional efforts of MLA:

  • Out of date 100-year “global warming potential” (GWP) used for the purpose of assessing the warming impact of non-CO2 greenhouse gases.
  • 20-year GWP should be considered, in addition to the 100-year figure, in order to allow for the near-term impact of the various greenhouse gases. That is a critical factor when considering potential climate change tipping points and runaway climate change.
  • The figures were based on the live weight of the animals, rather than the more conventional carcass weight or retail weight.
  • Livestock-related land clearing is increasing despite MLA’s implication to the contrary.
  • Savanna burning was omitted.
  • Foregone sequestration was omitted.
  • Short-lived global warming agents such as tropospheric ozone and black carbon were omitted.
  • Soil carbon losses may have been understated.

There are many ways to present data and information, and the authors of the paper may legitimately argue that their findings, published in a peer-reviewed journal, were valid. However, there are valid alternative approaches that result in findings that are less favourable to the livestock sector.

When applying only some of the factors referred to above, the emissions intensity of beef nearly triples from the figure estimated by Weidemann and his co-authors. When basing the results on figures for Oceania (dominated by Australia) from the Food & Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), there is a 5.6-fold increase from Wiedemann’s figure. [Footnote 3]

Some footage YFM and MLA did not show Beefjam attendees

If you’d like to see some of the reality of Australian cattle and lamb slaughter (a key component of the industry serviced by MLA), you can check out undercover footage from the Aussie Farms website here and from Animal Liberation NSW here. [11] [12] Warning: Graphic footage.

As stated in the first video, every year, around 17-19 million lambs are killed in Australian slaughterhouses at around six months of age. Due to the high demand for meat and the resultant speed of the process, many are killed without being properly stunned. Many in the videos writhe on the kill table before and after having their throat cut.

What were the outcomes of Beefjam?

As stated earlier, YFM has reported that Beefjam participants collectively designed and prototyped solutions to challenges surrounding Australian beef.

But where are the details?

For such a commitment in terms of time and money, the output from the event seems incredibly scant.

Bangor Farm, Tasmania

While “Beefjam” involved YFM and Target 100 selecting the “lucky” participants, the role was left solely to Target 100 for the three-day visit to Bangor Farm in Tasmania.

And who should be among the three participants this time? None other than YFM co-founder, Joanna Baker. [13]

As with the slaughterhouse mentioned earlier, Target 100 did not select any old farm for the visit. A farm in northern Australian (where 70 per cent of our beef is produced), denuded of grass and losing top soil at a rapid rate, just wouldn’t do. They chose a farm in temperate Tasmania, with sweeping ocean views and much of the original forest cover in place.

Such an approach largely ignores the overall environmental impact of livestock production compared to the benefits that could be achieved with a general transition away from animal-based foods.

One of the highlights of a related Target 100 promotional video was weed control on the farm, which the grazing of sheep is said to enhance. There was no mention of comments from The Pew Charitable Trusts, who have reported on the destructive environmental impacts of livestock grazing, including the introduction of invasive pasture grasses, manipulation of fire regimes, tree clearing, and degradation of land and natural water sources. [14]

15 per cent of Bangor farm is said to have been cleared for pasture, with the balance being native grasslands and forest where light grazing occurs. [15] [16]

Regardless of how one may perceive Bangor, because we need to allow massive areas of cleared grazing lands to regenerate to something approaching their original state in order to overcome climate change, livestock farming at current levels cannot realistically be considered sustainable. [17] [18]

A report by the World Wildlife Fund has identified eastern Australia as one of eleven global “deforestation fronts” for the twenty years to 2030 due to livestock-related land clearing in Queensland and New South Wales. [19]

Here are some extracts from Target 100’s videos dealing with the visit, along with some of my thoughts:

Jo: “Hearing from Matt that we aren’t producing beyond our land’s capacity was a surprise for me.” [Terrastendo: But overall, we are Jo, and it’s primarily because of animal agriculture.]

Matt: “People talk about emissions, carbon emissions from sheep and cattle. Part of the way we address that is to try and grow them quickly.” [Terrastendo: Do we grow a cow or a sheep like a plant in a pot? Even raising the animals quickly leaves the emissions from animal agriculture on a different paradigm to those from plant-based agriculture.]

Jo: “So that there’s less inputs that go into actually growing that lamb, which in a way makes it a lot more sustainable for the farmer and the landscape.” [Terrastendo: But Jo, beef production is not sustainable at levels required to feed the masses. And do you also believe we can grow an animal like a pot plant?]

Even allowing for faster growth rates in Australia than many other countries, along with better feed digestibility and other factors, the Food & Agriculture Organization of the UN has estimated that the emissions intensity of beef production in Oceania (dominated by Australia) is around 35 kilograms of greenhouse gases per kilogram of product. That’s based on a 100-year time horizon for measuring the global warming potential (GWP) of different greenhouse gases. If we convert the figure to a 20-year estimate, it increases to around 72 kilograms. [Footnote 3]

The FAO’s global average figure for beef from grass-fed cattle is 102 tonnes of greenhouse gases per tonne of product based on a 100-year GWP. [20] That increases to 209 tonnes per tonne of product based on a twenty year figure, which is equivalent to around 774 tonnes of greenhouse gases per tonne of protein. [Footnote 3]

Compare those figures to the figure of 1 tonne of CO2 per tonne of product for cement production, as referred to by Professor Tim Flannery in his book, “Atmosphere of Hope”. [21] Flannery (who was previously contracted to MLA) expressed concern over the figure for cement, but seems unconcerned about the high level of emissions from beef production. [22]

Direct funding

The relationship between YFM and MLA includes direct funding.

As part of a crowd funding campaign in 2016, under the MLA logo and the heading “An extra big thank you”, YFM announced:

“High fives to Meat and Livestock Australia, who purchased our $5,500 perk!”

It is not known to what extent, if any, MLA contributed to YFM’s non-government income of $148,536 for the year ended 30th June 2015. The 2015/16 income statement is yet to be published by the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission.

There are no “joining” or “subscription” fees for individuals who want to become involved with YFM.

In early 2016, YFM announced a three-year grant from Vincent Fairfax Family Foundation. [23]

Conclusion

To conclude, let’s consider some thoughts of Alexandra Iljadica, who co-founded YFM with Baker.

Asked about her “favourite food moment” in an interview on the YFM website, Iljadica nominated the annual family feast in Croatia with her in-laws.

“Uncle Mile is a shepherd so will slaughter a lamb for the occasion, which we’ll enjoy with home-made prsut (Croatian for prosciutto), hard cheese made from sheep and goat milk and a tomato and cucumber salad picked 30 seconds before serving.” [24]

It seems that any one of the beauties shown here could be considered fair game by Uncle Mile, with Alexandra savouring the end result.

around-the-farm-august-20

Don’t they deserve much better? Luckily for these happy individuals, they are living peacefully at Edgar’s Mission Farm Sanctuary in Victoria.

Author

Paul Mahony (also on Twitter, Scribd, Slideshare, New Matilda, Rabble and Viva la Vegan)

Acknowledgement

Thank you to Greg McFarlane for information on YFM’s funding, including the donation from MLA.

Footnotes

  1. MLA has won advertising industry awards such as Marketing Team of the Year and Advertiser of the Year. [25] PR and advertising firms it has utilised include: Republic of Everyone (“Bettertarian”); Totem (“#Goodmeat”); One Green Bean (one of two firms with “You’re better on beef”); BMF (one of two firms with “You’re better on beef”, plus “Generation Lamb”, “The beef oracle”, and “The Opponent”); and The Monkeys (Australia Day 2016 “Richie’s BBQ” and 2017 “Boat People”). Republic of Everyone has also created graphics proclaiming the supposed health benefits of eating red meat. I beg to differ, as outlined in my article “If you think it’s healthy to eat animals, perhaps you should think again” and elsewhere.
  2. Australia’s National Strategy for Ecologically Sustainable Development (1992) defined ecologically sustainable development as: “using, conserving and enhancing the community’s resources so that ecological processes, on which life depends, are maintained, and the total quality of life, now and in the future, can be increased” [26]
  3. The revised figures allow for the global average percentage split of the various factors contributing to the products’ emissions intensity, and are intended to be approximations only.

Related booklet

The low emissions diet: Eating for a safe climate

Updates

Additional comments and references added on 13th January 2017 in relation to the paper co-authored by Steve Wiedemann.

Footnote 1 extended on 26th January 2017.

Images

Youth Food Movement Australia | YFM logo badge only | Flickr | Creative Commons NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0) | http://tinyurl.com/j4c8ad9 | https://www.flickr.com/photos/142322734@N08/

Lambs | Edgar’s Mission Farm Sanctuary | https://www.edgarsmission.org.au/

References

[1] Mahony, P., “The real elephant in AYCC’s climate change room”, 5th September 2013, https://terrastendo.net/2013/09/05/the-real-elephant-in-ayccs-climate-change-room/

[2] Youth Food Movement Australia, “About”, http://www.youthfoodmovement.org.au/about-us/ (Accessed 9th January, 2016)

[3] Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission, Annual Information Statement 2015, Youth Food Movement Australia Ltd, https://www.acnc.gov.au/AIS2015?ID=8E78E032-C0CF-482B-9879-DF609B494B6E&noleft=1 (Accessed 14th Sep 2016)

[4] CassidyE.S., West, P.C., Gerber, J.S., Foley, J.A., “Redefining agricultural yields: from tonnes to people nourished per hectare”, Environ. Res. Lett. 8 (2013) 034015 (8pp), doi:10.1088/1748-9326/8/3/034015, cited in University of Minnesota News Release, 1 Aug 2013, “Existing Cropland Could Feed 4 Billion More”, http://www1.umn.edu/news/news-releases/2013/UR_CONTENT_451697.html

[5] World Hunger Education Service, Hunger Notes, “2016 World Hunger and Poverty Facts and Statistics”, http://www.worldhunger.org/2015-world-hunger-and-poverty-facts-and-statistics/ (Accessed 30th September 2016)

[6] Meat and Livestock Australia, “About MLA”, http://www.mla.com.au/about-mla/ (accessed 4th Sep 2016)

[7] Soutar, T., Youth Food Movement Australia, “Behind the scenes at an Australian abattoir”, 20th January 2016, http://www.youthfoodmovement.org.au/behind-the-scenes-at-an-australian-abattoir/

[8] Target 100, “About”, http://www.target100.com.au/About (accessed 4th Sep 2016)

[9] Mahony, P., “Emissions intensity of Australian beef”, Terrastendo, 30th June 2015, https://terrastendo.net/2015/06/30/emissions-intensity-of-australian-beef/

[10] Wiedemann, S.G, Henry, B.K., McGahan, E.J., Grant, T., Murphy, C.M., Niethe, G., “Resource use and greenhouse gas intensity of Australian beef production: 1981–2010″, Agricultural Systems, Volume 133, February 2015, Pages 109–118, http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0308521X14001565 and http://ac.els-cdn.com/S0308521X14001565/1-s2.0-S0308521X14001565-main.pdf?_tid=e4c5d55e-fc16-11e4-97e1-00000aacb362&acdnat=1431813778_b7516f07332614cd8592935ec43d16fd

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

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

[13] Youth Food Movement Australia, “Can meat production and sustainability go hand in hand?”, 26th June 2014, http://www.youthfoodmovement.org.au/target-100/

[14] 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

[15] True Aussie Beef and Lamb (Meat & Livestock Australia), What is Sustainable Farming | Where Does Our Meat Come From“, 4:07, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MGD2EAzj4SY, http://www.australian-meat.com/

[16] Paul Howard Cinematographer, “Target 100 Bettertarian Documentary”, 7:04, https://vimeo.com/138485968

[17] Hansen, J; Sato, M; Kharecha, P; Beerling, D; Berner, R; Masson-Delmotte, V; Pagani, M; Raymo, M; Royer, D.L.; and Zachos, J.C. “Target Atmospheric CO2: Where Should Humanity Aim?”, 2008. http://www.columbia.edu/~jeh1/2008/TargetCO2_20080407.pdf

[18] Stehfest, E, Bouwman, L, van Vuuren, DP, den Elzen, MGJ, Eickhout, B and Kabat, P, “Climate benefits of changing diet” Climatic Change, Volume 95, Numbers 1-2 (2009), 83-102, DOI: 10.1007/s10584-008-9534-6 (Also http://www.springerlink.com/content/053gx71816jq2648/)

[19] World Wildlife Fund (Worldwide Fund for Nature), “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

[20] 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

[21] Flannery, T., “Atmosphere of Hope: Searching for Solutions to the Climate Crisis”, Text Publishing (2015), p. 170

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

[23] Youth Food Movement Australia, “Youth Food Movement Australia is getting bigger than ever”, 3rd February 2016, http://www.youthfoodmovement.org.au/youth-food-movement-australia-getting-bigger-ever/

[24] Youth Food Movement Australia, “Alexandra Iljadica: Tell us a bit about you?”,  http://www.youthfoodmovement.org.au/teams/alex-iljadica/ (Accessed 11th January 2016)

[25] Baker, R., “The Marketer: Meat & Livestock Australia, cleaving, the brave way”, AdNews, 16th November 2015, http://www.adnews.com.au/news/the-marketer-meat-and-livestock-australia-cleaving-the-brave-way

[26] Australian Government, Department of the Environment and Energy, “Ecologically sustainable development”, https://www.environment.gov.au/about-us/esd (Accessed 14th Sep 2016)

mist-996615_1280

Doug Boucher of the Union of Concerned Scientists has published an online critique of the documentary “Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret“.

Boucher’s main concern is the film’s assertion that at least 51% of greenhouse gas emissions come from animal agriculture.

I have argued previously that the movie was wrong in relying so heavily on that figure, which came from a 2009 World Watch magazine article by Robert Goodland and Jeff Anhang. [1] [2] [Footnote ] However, there are some holes in Boucher’s arguments which, in turn, cause me some concern.

Livestock’s share of emissions

The main concern of Boucher and many others with the 51% figure is that it includes livestock respiration. Goodland and Anhang have argued that such respiration was overwhelming photosynthesis in absorbing carbon due to the massive human-driven increase in livestock numbers and removal of vegetation. Goodland subsequently stated, “In our assessment, reality no longer reflects the old model of the carbon cycle, in which photosynthesis balanced respiration”. [3]

Based on my interpretation of their figures, Goodland and Anhang’s non-respiration factors would have resulted in a livestock contribution of 43%.

However, Boucher also argues against other components of their estimate.

He suggests that, according to scientific “consensus” (a word he uses seven times), livestock are “currently” responsible for “about 15%” of global emissions. The paper he cites for that figure actually uses a range of 8% to 18%. [4] Its references, in turn, are from five papers published from 2005 to 2013, so they are hardly current, particularly when their reference periods are even earlier. The 2013 paper is from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, which used a figure of 14.5%. [5]

Within the figure of 51%, Boucher’s main concern is the use by Goodland and Anhang of a 20-year time horizon for estimating the warming impact of the various greenhouse gases. Boucher’s case against that approach is poorly argued. Let’s look at his key points.

Firstly, like many others, he claims methane’s global warming potential (GWP) (although not using that term) is 25 when measured over 100 years. Despite claiming that the figure is based on “recent scientific consensus” (there’s that word again), his figure is out of date.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) used a 100-year GWP of 25 in 2007 but increased it to 34 (with climate-carbon feedbacks) and 28 (without those feedbacks) in its 2013 Fifth Assessment Report. It also increased the figure for 20 years from 72 to 86 (with climate-carbon feedbacks) and 84 (without them). [6]

I have argued elsewhere that a 20-year GWP for methane may be more valid than the 100-year figure used by most reporting bodies. That’s because methane, a critical factor in livestock’s climate change impacts, generally breaks down in the atmosphere to a significant extent within around 12 years. Accordingly, a 100-year GWP (which shows the average impact over a period of 100 years) greatly understates its shorter term impact.

Boucher fails to recognise that the issue is critical when considering the impact of climate change tipping points, with potentially catastrophic and irreversible consequences due to the prospect of runaway climate change over which (as the term implies) humanity will have virtually no control.

In applying the 20-year (or shorter) time horizon, Goodland, Anhang, and others (including me) are reflecting profound concern for “our children, our grandchildren, and future generations”, despite Boucher asserting that we are selfishly ignoring them.

Secondly, Boucher says that those who apply a 20-year time horizon do not count methane’s impact “in the same way that most scientists do”. In other words, they are not using “the standard method”.

He seems to have overlooked the fact that the IPCC, in its 2013 Fifth Assessment Report, acknowledged that the 100-year figure is not always appropriate, when it stated:

“There is no scientific argument for selecting 100 years compared with other choices. The choice of time horizon is a value judgement because it depends on the relative weight assigned to effects at different times.” [7]

Does Boucher consider the IPCC to be beyond the scope of his much-loved scientific “consensus”?

Environmental Organisations

Boucher claims that the creators of Cowspiracy gave the impression that various environmental groups are part of a conspiracy because they don’t accept that livestock are responsible for 51% of global emissions. However, the issues discussed in the movie with those organisations extended well beyond that one. For example, when the interviewer questioned the sustainability of industrial scale fishing with Geoff Shester of Oceana (26:50), and rainforest destruction with Lindsey Allen of the Rainforest Action Network (31:30), the 51% figure was not mentioned.

Boucher also claims that Greenpeace politely declined to be interviewed. But why wouldn’t they be willing to discuss the issue, particularly when one of their “core values” is to “promote open, informed debate about society’s environmental choices”? [8]

Here’s an extract of the movie’s interview with Emily Meredith, spokesperson for Animal Agriculture Alliance (57:50), which seems to raise serious questions in relation to Greenpeace:

Question: “Does the meat and dairy industry ever support or donate to environmental non-profits?”

Emily Meredith (looking across to President and CEO, Kay Smith, who is out of sight): “I don’t know that I would want to comment on that.”

Voice of Kay Smith: “I don’t know that we would know what they donate to or don’t donate to.”

Question: “Does the meat and dairy industry ever support or donate to, say, Greenpeace?”

Emily Meredith (laughing nervously and looking across to Kay Smith): “Again, I don’t know that I would feel comfortable . . .”

Conclusion

If Boucher wishes to criticise Cowspiracy under the seemingly authoritative banner of the Union of Concerned Scientists, then his arguments should be based more on fact than they have been in this instance.

For my part, I will continue to argue that we will not overcome climate change unless we deal with both fossil fuels and animal agriculture, and that arguing over relative percentages may serve little purpose.

Author

Paul Mahony (also on Twitter, Scribd, Slideshare, New Matilda, Rabble and Viva la Vegan)

Footnote

The late Robert Goodland was the lead environmental adviser to the World Bank. Jeff Anhang is a research officer and environmental specialist at the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation.

At the time of writing, the full documentary could be seen here.

References

[1] Mahony, P. “Livestock and climate change: Do percentages matter?”, Terrastendo, 15th November, 2014, https://terrastendo.net/2014/11/15/livestock-and-climate-do-percentages-matter/

[2] Goodland, R & Anhang, J, “Livestock and Climate Change – What if the key actors in climate change are cows, pigs, and chickens?”, World Watch, Nov/Dec, 2009, pp 10-19, http://www.worldwatch.org/files /pdf/Livestock%20and%20Climate%20Change.pdf

[3] Goodland, R., “Lifting lifestock’s long shadow”, Nature Climate Change 3, 2 (2013) doi:10.1038/nclimate1755, Published online 21 December 2012, http://www.nature.com/nclimate/journal/v3/n1/full/nclimate1755.html and http://www.readcube.com/articles/10.1038/nclimate1755

[4] Herrero, M., Wirsenius, S., Henderson, B., Rigolot, C., Thornton, P., Havlik, P., de Boer, I., Gerber, P.J., “Livestock and the Environment:What Have We Learned in the Past Decade?”, Annu. Rev. Environ. Resour. 2015. 40:177–202, https://www.researchgate.net/publication/283528658_Livestock_and_the_Environment_What_Have_We_Learned_in_the_Past_Decade and http://www.annualreviews.org/doi/pdf/10.1146/annurev-environ-031113-093503

[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, pp. xii and 15, http://www.fao.org/ag/againfo/resources/en/publications/tackling_climate_change/index.htm; http://www.fao.org/docrep/018/i3437e/i3437e.pdf

[6] 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” , 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/

[7] Myhre, G., et al., ibid. pp. 711-712

[8] Greenpeace International, “Our Core Values”, http://www.greenpeace.org/international/en/about/our-core-values/

Image

Skitterphoto | Pixabay | CC0 Public Domain

blue-wildebeest-164473_1280

I was recently requested to comment on a 2011 TEDx presentation by Tony Lovell. [1] It seems the video of the presentation has been posted in recent climate change discussions involving the impact of animal agriculture.

Lovell is a director and co-founder of Sustainable Land Management Partners (SLM). The Australian firm describes itself as an asset manager acquiring and managing rural land on behalf of institutional investors. It focuses on so-called “holistic management” or “short duration grazing” systems of livestock production developed by Allan Savory. I have argued against Savory’s approach previously, and many of my comments from the relevant articles apply equally to Lovell’s presentation. [2] [3] [4]

The need to draw down carbon: Arguing a point over which no argument exists

Lovell spends much of the first half of the presentation seeking to convince the audience that we need to draw carbon from the atmosphere in order to reduce the impact of climate change.

He might be surprised to learn that, even at the time of his presentation in 2011, there was nothing new in that argument, and that most of us who argue for a reduction in livestock numbers would agree.

The same comment applies to his point that biological sequestration in particular, in the form of improved vegetation, is beneficial.

People’s thinking abilities relative to climate change and the carbon cycle

Lovell discussed what he felt were limitations in many people’s ability to adopt “complex, cyclical thinking”. Specifically, he bemoaned the supposed preponderance of “simplistic linear thinking” that links effects to a cause.

The example he gave was his belief that many people see greenhouse gases solely in a negative light. He argues that, because methane is a greenhouse gas, they don’t like it and, because cattle emit methane, they don’t like them either.

He argues that the supposed inability to think soundly is one of several reasons for people finding it difficult to deal with climate change. The others are: fear of the unknown or unusual; difficulty in dealing with large numbers; difficulty in understanding compound growth; and being loss averse.

It was not clear from his comments, but his reference to compound growth may have related to feedback mechanisms in the climate system that create exponential trends or compounding impacts.

Seemingly related to those points, he talks about people behaving irrationally in relation to economic decisions, and says, rather loosely, “climate change is talking about cost benefits and that”.

His points seem largely irrelevant to the case he tries to mount for his preferred form of agriculture.

The specific cycle he discussed in terms of “complex, cyclical thinking” was the carbon cycle.

He seems to contend that most people who are concerned about climate change do not realise that greenhouse gases are essential to avoid freezing temperatures, and that the problem is one of excess.

Once again, he might be surprised to learn that most of us who argue for a reduction in livestock numbers would agree.

He then uses the carbon cycle as a means to defend ruminant animals emitting methane, which contains carbon. He says, “these things are actually cycling carbon”.

They are, but he neglects to mention the extreme climate warming potential of the methane (comprising carbon and hydrogen atoms) created by those cattle and sheep.

Methane is “carbon on steroids”

Although it eventually breaks down to water and CO2 as part of the carbon cycle, methane is an extremely potent greenhouse gas prior to that time.

Over a 20-year time horizon, the IPCC estimates it is 86 times as potent as CO2. [5] NASA’s estimate is 105 times after allowing for aerosol (atmospheric particulates) responses. [6]

In the words of Kirk Smith, Professor of Global Environmental Health at the University of California, Berkeley, it is “truly carbon on steroids”. [7]

The fact that the carbon in methane is eventually recycled provides little comfort while it is doing its damage.

The issue is critical as we march toward potential tipping points that could lead to runaway climate change over which, by definition, we will have virtually no control. [8]

Modern livestock numbers are unnatural and massive

Lovell cites the wildebeest on the Serengeti Plain in Africa to effectively contend, like Savory, that cattle grazing can be arranged in a way that mimics nature. However, the forced and selective breeding of food production animals for increased population size and accelerated growth is an unnatural process, and has greatly increased the overall animal biomass and related environmental impacts.

How do the numbers compare? [9] [10]

  • Wildebeest in Africa: 1.2 million [Footnote 1]
  • Cattle in Africa: 310 million
  • Cattle in countries where wildebeest exist: 72 million
  • Cattle in Tanzania and Kenya where the annual wildebeest migration occurs: 43 million
  • Biomass of cattle in countries where both species exist: 28.8 million tonnes
  • Biomass of wildebeest: 0.24 million tonnes [Footnote 2]

Let’s see how those numbers look in charts.

Figure 1: Wildebeest and Cattle (Millions)

Animal-numbers

Figure 2: Estimated biomass of cattle and wildebeest in countries where wildebeest exist (Million tonnes)

Biomass-2

Cattle’s estimated biomass is 120 times that of wildebeest in the countries where they co-exist.

Images shown by Lovell included another ruminant animal, the giraffe. With only around 80,000 remaining in the wild, it’s hard to believe they represent a threat in terms of climate change, relative to other factors. [11]

Lovell says ruminant animals evolved between 10 and 26 million years ago, and that there have been billions of them. There may have been over that time frame, but the number and biomass of ruminants in the wild are minuscule relative to those used as livestock.

An extraordinary contradiction

Around twelve minutes into his presentation, Lovell states that land-based plants draw around 8 per cent of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere every year. He contends that “if we didn’t have ruminant animals or breakdown or oxidation or whatever is happening to cycle the material back up, in 12 years there would be no carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.”

What he doesn’t mention is that we don’t require ruminant animals for the carbon cycle to work. The breakdown and oxidation of organic matter would occur without them.

It seems extraordinary that Lovell can spend so much time early in his presentation arguing that we need to draw CO2 from the atmosphere, then argue that we need ruminant animals in order to prevent that atmospheric CO2 from disappearing.

In any event, a critical problem is loss of vegetation due to meat production, reducing the ability of the biosphere to draw carbon from the atmosphere.

Livestock production reduces biodiversity

At around the 18:30 mark, Lovell seems to blame crop production (along with removal of predators and microbes) for loss of biodiversity and related negative environmental impacts.

A key point globally is that we could reduce the area used for food production significantly if we were to increase the proportion of people on a plant-based diet. The reason is that such diets are far more efficient than the animal-based alternative in supplying our nutritional requirements, thereby requiring fewer resources, including land.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has stated that livestock production is one of the major causes of biodiversity loss, along with other examples of our “most pressing environmental problems”.

Tropical rainforest stores ten times as much carbon as perennial grasses

Lovell claims (13:40) that a hectare of healthy, functioning perennial grass contains more carbon than tropical rainforest. He says:

“The reason is the gaps between the trees versus the soil.”

Profound indeed.

An authoritative independent source disagrees. Australia’s Chief Scientist has reported:

“Based on data from typical perennial grasslands and mature forests in Australia, forests are typically more than 10 times as effective as grasslands at storing carbon on a hectare per hectare basis.”

In any event, grazing has a devastating effect on perennial grasslands.

The Pew Charitable Trusts have commented extensively on the destructive environmental impacts of Australian livestock grazing, including land clearing, introduction of invasive pasture grasses, degradation of land and natural water sources, and manipulation of fire regimes. Importantly, they have reported on improvements to land when pastoralists transition from grazing to eco tourism.

Lovell’s prejudice

Lovell displays clear prejudice at two points.

Firstly, in discussing linear versus complex thinking, he says (at 3:50):

“You ask somebody anything past that, you’ll find that is the full depth of their knowledge of the topic. They’re opposed to cattle, they’re opposed to ruminant animals, they’re opposed to agriculture, and that’s about the level of depth they get to.”

That is a gross generalisation.

Secondly (at 6:20):

“We go to solar power, wind power, and it’s all peace, love and mung beans, etc.”

Like the rest of his argument, both points lack substance.

Conclusion

The systems promoted by Lovell and Savory may have some merit on a small scale where water points are plentiful and labour relatively cheap. However, despite the romantic notion of cattle grazing harmlessly on natural grasslands, those systems could not be scaled up sufficiently, in an environmentally friendly manner, to satisfy the needs of a growing global population.

Footnotes

  1. The wildebeest population is limited to Botswana, Kenya, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
  2. The average weight of adult cattle is more than twice that of wildebeest. A reduced weight of 400 kg has been assumed for cattle, allowing for the fact that younger animals represent a higher proportion of a herd than that of wild animals, as they are slaughtered at a relatively young age. The figure is conservative, as members of the most common breed in Africa, Bos indicus, typically weigh 800-1,100 kg (adult bull) or 500-700 kg (adult cow). [12] [13] The full adult weight of wildebeest (assumed at 200 kg and typically 150 – 250 kg) has been used. [14]

Author

Paul Mahony (also on Twitter, Scribd, Slideshare, New Matilda, Rabble and Viva la Vegan)

References

[1] Lovell, A. Soil carbon – Putting carbon back where it belongs – In the Earth”, TEDx, Dubbo, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wgmssrVInP0 (uploaded 9th September, 2011)

[2] Mahony, P. “Livestock and climate: Why Allan Savory is not a saviour”, Terrastendo, 26th March, 2013, https://terrastendo.net/2013/03/26/livestock-and-climate-why-allan-savory-is-not-a-saviour/

[3] Mahony, P. “Savory and McKibben: Another postscript”, Terrastendo, 7th August, 2014, https://terrastendo.net/2014/08/07/savory-and-mckibben-another-postscript/

[4] Mahony, P. “More on Savory, livestock and climate change”, Terrastendo, 23rd August, 2014, https://terrastendo.net/2014/08/23/more-on-savory-livestock-and-climate-change/

[5] 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/

[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] Smith, K.R., “Carbon dioxide is not the only greenhouse gas”, ABC Environment, 25th January, 2010, http://www.abc.net.au/environment/articles/2010/01/25/2778345.htm; Smith, K.R., “Carbon on Steroids:The Untold Story of Methane, Climate, and Health”, Slide 67, 2007, http://www.arb.ca.gov/research/seminars/smith/smith.pdf

[8] Spratt, D. and Dunlop, I., “Dangerous Climate Warming: Myth, reality and risk management”, Oct 2014, p. 5, http://www.climatecodered.org/p/myth-and-reality.html

[9] Poole, R.M., “For Wildebeests, Danger Ahead”, Smithsonian Magazine, May, 2010, http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/for-wildebeests-danger-ahead-13930092/?no-ist

[10] Food & Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, FAOSTAT, Live animals, 2013, http://faostat.fao.org/site/573/DesktopDefault.aspx?PageID=573#ancor

[11] Schaul, J.C., “Safeguarding Giraffe Populations From Extinction in East Africa”, National Geographic, 17th June, 2014, http://voices.nationalgeographic.com/2014/06/17/safeguarding-giraffe-populations-from-extinction-in-east-africa/

[12] Mwai, O., Hanotte, O., Kwon, Y., Cho, S., “African Indigenous Cattle: Unique Genetic Resources in a Rapidly Changing World”, Asian-Australas J Anim Sci. 2015 Jul; 28(7): 911–921, 10.5713/ajas.15.0002R and http://ajas.info/upload/pdf/ajas-28-7-911.pdf

[13] Fasae, O.A., Sowande, O.S., Adewumi, O.O., “Ruminant animal production and husbandry”, Department of Animal Production and Health, University of Agriculture, Abeokuta, Nigeria, http://www.unaab.edu.ng/attachments/461_APH301%20NOTES%20[1].pdf

[14] National Geographic, “Wildebeest” (undated), http://animals.nationalgeographic.com.au/animals/mammals/wildebeest/

Image

Blue wildebeest | PublicDomainPictures 18043 images | CC0 Public Domain | Pixabay

dreamstime_s_174757

With dietary choices increasingly highlighted as a major contributor to climate change, it may be tempting to argue in favour of certain forms of meat consumption over others.

That’s a key element of the so-called “climatarian” diet. Here’s how the New York Times defines it: [1]

“A diet whose primary goal is to reverse climate change. This includes eating locally produced food (to reduce energy spent in transportation), choosing pork and poultry instead of beef and lamb (to limit gas emissions), and using every part of ingredients (apple cores, cheese rinds, etc.) to limit food waste.”

But can such choices realistically achieve what may be hoped for?

This article focuses on greenhouse gas emissions, but firstly a word on the issue of eating locally.

“Post-farm” emissions, including those from transportation, only account for 0.5 per cent of beef’s emissions, so there’s not much benefit in purchasing the locally produced product. [2] For lower-emissions products, transportation’s share of emissions is higher; Nijdam, et al. have reported an average contribution across all food types of around 11 per cent. [3]

Emissions intensity

Many life cycle assessment (LCA) studies have shown that meat from ruminant animals, such as cows and sheep, is far more emissions intensive than that from pigs, chickens or fish, while emissions from plant-based foods are lower still. Ruminants emit large amounts of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, and often graze widely, with implications for CO2 emissions through land clearing and soil carbon losses.

The LCA figures are generally based on a greenhouse gas “global warming potential” (GWP) calculated over a 100-year time horizon. [4]

The adverse impact is even more pronounced when a 20-year time horizon is used, primarily because most of the methane breaks down in the atmosphere before that point. As a result, the 100-year measure (showing the average impact of a gas over the longer period) understates methane’s shorter-term impacts, as it would be almost non-existent over the final eighty years.

Its significant impact in the early stages can be critical when considering feedback mechanisms that contribute to accelerating, potentially irreversible changes in our climate system.

Comparative emissions intensities of different food products, relative to their protein content, are outlined in Figure 1. [Footnotes 1 and 2] The chart shows figures with 20-year and 100-year GWPs. The 100-year livestock figures, other than fish, are based on global average estimates from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. [5] The figures for fish and other products are from a 2014 paper by Oxford University researchers, who drew on the work of the Food Climate Research Network and the World Wildlife Fund [6] [7]. Where relevant, they have been adjusted to a 20-year basis utilising GWP estimates from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC’s) 2013 Fifth Assessment Report.

The figures for beef represent meat from the specialised beef herd, rather than meat from the dairy herd. Dairy beef’s emissions are relatively low, as the herd’s emissions are also attributed to dairy products, such as milk and cheese.

The FAO reports were based on LCAs using its Global Livestock Environmental Assessment Model (GLEAM). The model, like the LCA assessment utilised by Oxford, took into account emissions along the supply chain to the retail point. For meat, they are based on carcass weight.

The figures for animal-based foods, in particular, vary significantly by region, and are influenced by factors such as feed digestibility, livestock management practices, reproduction performance and land use.

The figures take into account protein estimates from the US Department of Agriculture’s National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference. [6]

Figure 1: kg CO2-e greenhouse gas / kg protein based on GWP100 and GWP20 (global average figures)

Emissions-intensity-protein

The twenty-year figures for beef, sheep meat, pig meat and cows’ milk are influenced by the high proportion of methane emissions, ranging from 25.8 per cent (pigs) to 56.9 per cent (sheep). Most of pigs’ methane emissions, representing 19.2 per cent of their total emissions, come from manure management.

Is it okay to eat other animal products?

Even using the conservative 100-year time horizon, chicken meat, pig meat, fish and eggs are more than 3 times as emissions intensive as soybeans. Based on the 20-year period, pig meat is 5 times, and eggs are nearly 6 times. (The time period does not affect the emissions intensity of chicken meat and fish, as methane is not a significant factor in their emissions.)

If climate change impacts were considered to be a cost in their own right, those figures could be expressed as chicken meat being 200 per cent more “expensive”, pig meat being 400 per cent more “expensive”, and eggs being 500 per cent more “expensive”, than soybeans.

Inefficiencies on that scale would not normally be tolerated in government or private sector businesses, where discrepancies of 5 – 10 per cent can mean life or death to any project or program. Why should such levels of inefficiency be tolerated when they relate to greenhouse gas emissions, particularly when our current position in relation to climate change is so precarious?

A climate emergency with no buffer

As poorly as pig meat, chicken meat, fish and eggs compare to plant-based options on the basis of emissions intensity, that measure is only part of the story.

We face an emergency in which we are effectively sitting on the edge of a precipice, with little room to move before we lose any ability to favourably influence our climate system. [9] [10] In such a dangerous position, we need to select those dietary choices with the best chance of allowing us to move to a position of relative safety.

Due to the rapid expansion of soybean plantations for animal feed, consumption of pig and chicken meat, farmed fish, eggs and dairy products plays a critical role in the destruction of the Amazon rainforest and other carbon-rich ecosystems, such as the Cerrado region further south. [11]

With rising global temperatures and excessive forest fragmentation, we may be pushing the rainforest toward a dangerous threshold.  Such fragmentation can lead to general drying and an increased propensity for fires and other causes of loss. Studies published in late 2014 and early 2015 documented the extremely adverse long-term effects of forest fragmentation, including carbon losses far in excess of what was previously believed. Much of the fragmentation arises from agriculture, including livestock feed crops. [12] [13]

Dieback of the Amazon rainforest represents a potential tipping point, where a small change in human activity can lead to abrupt and significant changes in earth systems, with catastrophic and irreversible impacts. [14] Even in the absence of clear tipping points, climate feedback mechanisms create accelerating, potentially irreversible changes.

It could be argued that any agricultural plantation in the Amazon basin and elsewhere represents an environmental problem. That is true, but the problem is magnified in regard to animal feed, due to the gross and inherent inefficiency of animals as a food source. In converting soybeans to pig and chicken meat for example, we lose around 80 per cent of the plant-based protein used in the production process. [15] That means the land area required is around five times the area required if we obtained the protein directly from plants.

Feed conversion ratios of various livestock production systems are shown in Figure 2, which can also be seen in the article Chickens, pigs and the Amazon tipping point. The researchers determined the figures by analysing between twenty-nine and eighty-three studies per item.

Figure 2: Feed conversion ratios (kg feed protein required per kg of animal protein produced)

Feed-conversion-incl-salmon

Although soybean meal for livestock feed was once considered a by-product of soybean oil production, it is the requirement for livestock feed that now drives the international soybean trade. [16]

China’s livestock sector is the major global consumer of traded soy products. However, the trade is global, and demand pressure from any country contributes to an increase in overall supply, thereby increasing pressure on critical ecosystems in soy-producing regions.

In the absence of an overall global shift away from ruminant meat such as beef and lamb (the opposite trend is occurring in many developing nations), any increase in the consumption of pig meat, chicken meat, fish, eggs and dairy products will almost certainly cause soybean plantations to expand, rather than contract, with the potential loss of the massive carbon sink that the Amazon basin and Cerrado region represent. On the other hand, a general move away from those products may allow vast areas of cleared land to regenerate to something approaching their natural state.

Corn is also a major component of animal feed production. The crop is far more water and nutrient intensive than soy, so its use has major implications for producing nations, including those in South America. [17]

Other overlooked climate change impacts of consuming fish and other sea creatures

I recently commented on a paper that had appeared in Nature Climate Change, which had helped to highlight some of the impact of industrial and non-industrial fishing on our climate system. [18] [19] The problem arises largely 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 paper focused on the phenomenon of “trophic downgrading”, the disproportionate loss of species high in the food chain, and its impact on vegetated coastal habitats consisting of seagrass meadows, mangroves and salt marshes.

The loss of 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 the vegetation and sediment. The ocean predators are either caught intentionally by fishing fleets, or as by-catch when other species are targeted.

The affected oceanic habitats are estimated to store up to 25 billion tonnes of carbon, making them the most carbon-rich ecosystems in the world. They sequester carbon 40 times faster than tropical rainforests and contribute 50 per cent of the total carbon buried in ocean sediment.

Estimates of the areas affected are unavailable, but if only 1 per cent of vegetated coastal habitats were affected to a depth of 1 metre in a year, around 460 million tonnes of CO2 could be released. That is around the level of emissions from all motor vehicles in Britain, France and Spain combined, or a little under Australia’s current annual emissions. If 10 per cent of such habitats were affected to the same depth, it would be equivalent to emissions from all motor vehicles in the top nine vehicle-owning nations (USA, China, India, Japan, Indonesia, Brazil, Italy, Germany, and Russia), whose share of global vehicle numbers is 61 per cent. It would also equate to around eight times Australia’s emissions.

Loss of ongoing carbon sequestration is the other problem. 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.

These impacts only relate to vegetated coastal habitats, and do not allow for loss of predators on kelp forests, coral reefs or open oceans, or the direct impact on habitat of destructive fishing techniques such as trawling. They are not accounted for in the emissions intensity figures referred to earlier, or in national greenhouse gas inventories.

Conclusion

The argument of those who encourage increased consumption of pig meat, chicken meat, fish and eggs at the expense of beef and lamb is essentially one of “getting the biggest bang for the buck”, as reflected in the relative emissions intensity of different products. However, consumption of the supposedly more favourable animal-based foods has adverse impacts that are unaccounted for in most forms of climate change reporting, which should cause them to sit alongside ruminant meat in terms of campaigning efforts.

Author

Paul Mahony (also on Twitter, Scribd, Slideshare, New Matilda, Rabble and Viva la Vegan)

Footnotes

  1. The “GWP 20” figures are based on the global average percentage split of the various factors contributing to the relevant products’ emissions intensity, and are intended to be approximations only.
  2. 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.
  3. This article focuses on climate change, but other critical environmental impacts arise from animal-based food production, such as contamination of land and waterways from animal waste, largely related to the inherent inefficiency of animals as a food source.

References

[1] Moskin, J., “‘Hangry’? Want a Slice of ‘Piecaken’? The Top New Food Words for 2015”, The New York Times, 15th December, 2015, http://www.nytimes.com/2015/12/16/dining/new-food-words.html?_r=0

[2] Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, “Tackling climate change through livestock: A global assessment of emissions and mitigation opportunities”, Nov 2013, http://www.fao.org/ag/againfo/resources/en/publications/tackling_climate_change/index.htm; http://www.fao.org/docrep/018/i3437e/i3437e.pdf , extract of Fig. 7, p. 24

[3] Nijdam, D., Rood, T., & Westhoek, H. (PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency), “The price of protein: Review of land use and carbon footprints from life cycle assessments of animal food products and their substitutes”, Food Policy, 37 (2012) 760–770, published online 26th September, 2012, http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0306919212000942

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

[5] Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, “Tackling climate change through livestock: A global assessment of  emissions and mitigation opportunities”, Table 5, p. 24, Nov 2013, http://www.fao.org/ag/againfo/resources/en/publications/tackling_climate_change/index.htm; http://www.fao.org/docrep/018/i3437e/i3437e.pdf

[6] 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, http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs10584-014-1169-1

[7] Audsley E., Brander M., Chatterton J., Murphy-Bokern D.,Webster C., Williams A. (2009) “How low can we go? an
assessment of greenhouse gas emissions from the UK food system and the scope to reduce them by 2050″. Food Climate Research Network & WWF, London, UK, cited in Scarorough, et al., ibid, http://www.fcrn.org.uk/fcrn/publications/how-low-can-we-go and http://www.fcrn.org.uk/sites/default/files/WWF_How_Low_Report.pdf

[8] USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference http://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ via Nutrition Data http://www.nutritiondata.com

[9] Mahony, P., “The climate crisis requires emergency action”, Terrastendo, 24th August, 2014, https://terrastendo.net/2014/08/24/the-climate-crisis-requires-emergency-action/

[10] 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/

[11] Brown, L.R., “Full Planet, Empty Plates: The New Geopolitics of Food Scarcity, Chapter 9, China and the Soybean Challenge”, Earth Policy Institute, 6 November, 2013, http://www.earthpolicy.org/books/fpep/fpepch9

[12] Pütz, S., Groeneveld, J., Henle, K., Knogge, C., Martensen, A.C., Metz, M., Metzger, J.P., Ribeiro, M.C., de Paula, M. D., M. & Andreas Huth, A., “Long-term carbon loss in fragmented Neotropical forests”, Nature Communications 5:5037 doi: 10.1038/ncomms6037 (2014). http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/ncomms6037, cited in Hance, J., “Forest fragmentation’s carbon bomb: 736 million tonnes C02 annually”, Mongabay, 9th October, 2014, http://news.mongabay.com/2014/10/forest-fragmentations-carbon-bomb-736-million-tonnes-c02-annually/, 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/

[13] Haddad, N.M., Brudvig, L.A., Clobert, J., Davies, K.F., Gonzalez, A., Holt, R.D., Lovejoy, T.E., Sexton, J.O., Austin, M.P., Collins, C.D., Cook, W.M., Damschen, E.I., Ewers, R.M., Foster, B.L., Jenkins, C.N., King, A.J., Laurance, W.F., Levey, D.J., Margules, C.R., Melbourne, B.A., Nicholls, A.O., Orrock, J.L., Song, D-X., and Townshend, J.R., “Habitat fragmentation and its lasting impact on Earth’s ecosystems”, Science Advances, 20 Mar 2015: Vol. 1, no. 2, e1500052 DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.1500052, http://advances.sciencemag.org/content/1/2/e1500052.full, cited in Bell., L., “World’s fragmented forests are deteriorating”, Mongabay, 24th March, 2015, http://news.mongabay.com/2015/03/worlds-fragmented-forests-are-deteriorating/, cited in Mahony, P., “Chickens, pigs and the Amazon tipping point”, ibid.

[14] Lenton, T.M., Held, H., Kriegler, E., Hall, J.W., Lucht, W., Rahmstorf, S., Schellnhuber, H.J., “Tipping elements in the Earth’s climate system, PNAS 2008 105 (6) 1786-1793; published ahead of print February 7, 2008, doi:10.1073/pnas.0705414105, http://www.pnas.org/content/105/6/1786.full

[15] 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”, op. cit.

[16] McFarlane, I. and O’Connor, E.A., “World soybean trade: growth and sustainability”, Modern Economy, 2014, 5, 580-588, Published Online May 2014 in SciRes, Table 1, p. 582, http://www.scirp.org/journal/me, http://dx.doi.org/10.4236/me.2014.55054, cited in Mahony, P., “Chickens, pigs and the Amazon tipping point”, Terrastendo, op. cit.

[17] Levitt, T., “Who will feed China’s pigs? And why it matters to us”, China Dialogue, 18th August, 2014, https://www.chinadialogue.net/article/show/single/en/7226-Who-will-feed-China-s-pigs-And-why-it-matters-to-us, cited in Mahony, P., “Chickens, pigs and the Amazon tipping point”, op. cit.

[18] 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/

[19] 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.

Image

Bull Spain © Afagundes | Dreamstime.com

Update

Figure 2 added on 25th October 2016

12316640_10154575915887195_1614374424150659292_n

Note from author:

This article first appeared on the Medium website in response to the article #NotAllVegans by Cam Fenton.

Article “Another letdown from 350.org”

I am a vegan climate activist who does not make statements along the lines of those mentioned in the article #NotAllVegans. In any event, I believe the main point of those who do is that a general transition away from animal agriculture is essential.

I argue that we must deal with fossil fuels and animal agriculture, and that there’s not much value in arguing over percentages.

A critical factor is the need to massively reforest. There is no way to achieve the required extent of reforestation without a general transition away from animal agriculture.

I expand on the issue in my article “Livestock and climate: Do percentages matter?”.

Mind you, if we measure the global warming potential of the various greenhouse gases on the basis of a 20-year time horizon, animal agriculture’s share would be well above 20 per cent.

The IPCC says that such an approach is valid. It is particularly so in the context of the small window of time available to turn the climate change juggernaut around. A reduction in livestock-related methane emissions would provide relatively rapid benefits.

If we also allow for short-lived greenhouse gases, such as tropospheric ozone, livestock’s share will increase further.

Seafood consumption is also causing huge amounts of carbon to be released from vegetated coastal habitats and other oceanic ecosystems, while also reducing the oceans’ carbon sequestration capacity. (“Seafood and climate change: The surprising link”)

Animal agribusiness is a key contributor to the “dig, burn and dump economy”, largely because of its grossly and inherently inefficient nature.

The writer assumes that vegans who call for action on animal agriculture are only “telling people not to eat meat”, rather than calling for an end to “cattle barons” clearing “massive tracts of land”. I assume most of them want both, and believe that a reduction in demand by consumers will contribute to a reduction in supply and related land clearing.

He mentions the need for “system change”. A carbon tax that included agriculture would be a great start. When its environmental cost is factored into the end price, a product such as beef would be considered a luxury, with a substantial reduction in demand and supply. A similar approach must apply to other products.

All proceeds from a carbon tax could be returned to the community through personal income tax reductions and adjustments to welfare payments (as advocated by Dr James Hansen). Its sole purpose would then be to create pricing signals that influenced purchasing decisions.

If environmental groups and governments were willing to inform the community of animal agriculture’s impacts, it would also help enormously. Efficient markets require informed participants. Guardian columnist George Monbiot recently reported findings from the Royal Institute of International Affairs, indicating that people are willing to change their diets once they become aware of the problem. However, many have no idea of the livestock sector’s adverse environmental impacts.

An end to soy production in the Amazon, most of which is feeding the 60 billion chickens and 1.4 billion pigs slaughtered each year, is also essential. (“Chickens, pigs and the Amazon tipping point”)

The writer’s comments on “Big Oil” are nothing new. Please see my article “Relax, have a cigarette and forget about climate change” from August, 2012, referring to “Merchants of Doubt” by Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway.

He says “it’s a strategic choice to fight the biggest and most powerful opponent to real climate action on the planet.”

I argue that we face a climate emergency, requiring urgent action on all fronts.

Those who can go vegan should do so. Their contribution would provide enormous benefits. Meaningful action is possible in many developing nations, including some in Africa.

The northern and southern Guinea Savanna regions have been adversely affected by livestock grazing. Large areas could be returned to forest and other wooded vegetation if given the opportunity. With 360 million head of cattle in Africa, that’s currently extremely difficult.

As an example of an alternative approach to livestock production, Gerard Wedderburn-Bisshop of the World Preservation Foundation has referred to the Kenya Hunger Halt program, administered by the World Food Program. Under the program, people have been taught to grow alternatives such as root crops. The Maasai, traditional herders, have been converting to the program, growing nutritious crops and thriving.

The writer concludes by saying that vegans who carry “go vegan to save the planet” signs are making all vegans look bad.

As stated earlier, I believe their main point is that a general transition away from animal agriculture is essential.

The PBL Netherlands Environment Assessment Authority has estimated such an approach would reduce climate change mitigation costs by 80 per cent.

The author of #NotAllVegans is a Canadian Tar Sands Organizer with 350.org (although he notes that his opinions are his own). Here are some thoughts on the organisation’s founder, Bill McKibben, relating to the animal agriculture issue: “Do the math: There are too many cows!

McKibben might be proud of his employee’s writing efforts. However, they have fallen well short of the mark, just like his own.

Author

Paul Mahony (also on Twitter, Facebook, Scribd, Slideshare, New Matilda, Rabble and Viva la Vegan)

Image

Animal Liberation Victoria from The People’s Climate March – Melbourne, 27th November, 2015

Cowspiracy

I’ve written about the Australian red meat industry’s response to the documentary film Cowspiracy in two previous posts. This post consolidates the key points and provides some new perspectives.

Who’s representing the industry?

The industry’s arguments appear on its Target 100 website, which has been established by five organisations: Meat & Livestock Australia; Australian Lot Feeders Association; Australian Meat Industry Council; Sheep Meat Council of Australia; and Cattle Council of Australia. [1]

Based on that level of representation, it seems that the industry is keen to defend itself against the movie’s claims.

Seventeen arguments become twelve

In its website posts of October and November, 2014, the industry put forward seventeen arguments to support its position. Some of those arguments, relating to research activities and methane, were effectively repeated many times. By my reckoning, the result is that only twelve distinct arguments were presented. I’ll consider them all in this post, with some repetition from my previous posts. [Footnote 1].

The industry has shot itself in the foot

With four of the twelve arguments, the industry has figuratively shot itself in the foot.

Shot in the foot #1: Dr Barry Traill

At the time of writing, the industry is claiming on its website that the director of The Pew Charitable TrustsOutback Australia program, Dr Barry Traill (mis-spelt “Trail” on the website), argues that using arid land for cattle grazing may be positive in Australia. The evidence they cite is Dr Traill’s TEDx presentation of May, 2014, Populate wilderness or perish“.

A key point of the presentation was that we need more people in the Outback than at present, in order to appropriately manage issues such as fire regimes and feral animals. [Footnote 2]

Dr Traill’s comment on the cattle industry occupied just 5 seconds of that 10 minute 48 second presentation. He said (at 9:05), “Many cattle station owners are doing a great job of managing their part of the outback”.

But do the words “doing a great job” mean livestock grazing? He may have meant that many pastoralists are reducing livestock numbers and diversifying into other activities with clear environmental benefits.

Dr Traill co-authored Pew’s October, 2014 publication, The Modern Outback: Nature, people, and the future of remote Australia“. [2] The authors have commented extensively on the destructive environmental impacts of grazing. Problems include tree clearing, introduction of invasive pasture grasses, degradation of land and natural water sources, and manipulation of fire regimes (p. 167-171).

The authors highlighted the fact that the environment improves when pastoralists move away from intense grazing activity.  In one example, the pastoralists “are closely monitoring the gradual regrowth of grazing-sensitive plants.” They “host Outback farm stays and tours to diversify their income and raise awareness about the importance of giving pastoral land time to recover from over a century of intense grazing.” (p. 170)

In his TEDx presentation and elsewhere, Dr Traill has emphasised the fact that the number of Aboriginals in remote Outback areas has reduced as people have moved into more central settlements and towns. As a result of this trend, some native animal species have either disappeared or greatly declined. [3]

In the report mentioned above, he and his co-authors highlight the need for people to help manage the environment, but their position should not be interpreted as one that promotes the idea of more pastoralists grazing livestock. The report highlights that extensive benefits have been derived through the introduction of indigenous ranger groups and the declaration of indigenous protected areas (IPAs) across huge regions. There are now 67 IPAs covering more than 540,000 square kilometres, which is more than twice the size of the state of Victoria. There are also more than 750 indigenous rangers managing and safeguarding the land.

Pastoral leases for cattle, sheep and goats cover around 40 percent of the Outback, which in turn occupies 73 percent of the 7.7 million square kilometre continent. Between 60 and 70 percent of the continent as a whole is managed through such leases. The Pew Charitable Trust is campaigning for state governments to permit (unlike at present) non-grazing related activities on pastoral land. An example is Western Australia, where the relevant leases (occupying 30 percent of the state’s massive land area) will expire in June 2015. The organisation “recommends making a diversity of options available for pastoral lease lands and ensuring good governance with a focus on sustainable management, population support and economic viability”. [4]

The organisation certainly does not appear to be supporting grazing activity in terms of environmental performance.

Shot in the foot #2: Biodiversity and other environmental impacts

The industry says that greenhouse gas emissions are just one aspect of environmental management. It says that while there is enormous focus on how to reduce methane emissions “this needs to be done with consideration for impacts on other important environmental factors such as  biodiversity”.

I couldn’t agree more!

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has stated that livestock production “is one of the major causes of the world’s most pressing environmental problems, including global warming, land degradation, air and water pollution, and loss of biodiversity.” [26]

Although the industry is supporting research in relation to issues such as water, soil and ground cover, and biodiversity, much of the research can only assist in finding incremental improvements relative to the benefits that could be derived from a general move away from animal agriculture.

Shot in the foot #3: Grass-fed versus grain-fed animals

The industry seems keen to point out that the extent to which cattle are grain-fed in Australia is lower than in the US.

They don’t seem to recognise that while cows are fed on grass, they produce far more methane than when they are fed on grain.

Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) has estimated that cows fed on grass produce 4 times as much methane as those fed on grain. [5]

In November, 2013, the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations) reported that the global average emissions intensity (kilograms of greenhouse gas emissions per kilogram of end product) was 81 percent higher in beef derived from animals on “grazing” (or “grass-based”) feeding systems than in those on “mixed” systems. [6] (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.)

Even a study by The University of New South Wales, funded by Meat & Livestock Australia and referred to on the Target 100 website, reported that grass-fed cows produce more methane than others. [8]

Perhaps the industry has overlooked the research it has funded, and believes that the natural way is best in all respects, when clearly it is not.

At least they’re not alone. The Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) and Bill McKibben of 350.org have made similar claims, with neither citing any evidence for their position. [9] However, the ACF has subsequently removed its comments from the relevant websites.

Shot in the foot #4: Reduction of 5.3% in beef’s emissions intensity in 20 years (and they think that’s good)

The industry claims that the Australian production efficiencies have resulted in a 5.3% reduction in emissions per tonne of beef between 1990 and 2010. Why does that represent a shot in the foot? The industry applauds a 5.3% reduction in 20 years, which equals an annual rate of 0.286% from the reducing balance.

At that rate, it would take 243 years to achieve a 50% reduction from the 1990 level.

Here’s how the current global average emissions intensity of grass-fed beef compares with soy beans and legumes [Footnote 3]:

Figure 1: Emissions intensity (kg CO2-e/kg product) with GWP20

Emissions-intensity-sharpened

If we were to halve the figure for grass-fed beef (perhaps generously assuming Australia’s figure was half the global average), and then halve it again looking ahead 243 years, then the figure for grass-fed beef (72 kg/kg CO2-e) would still be around 20 to  35 times greater than that of legumes and soy beans (using a 20-year timeframe for assessing the global warming potential of relevant greenhouse gases).

In any event, we can’t wait 243 years or more to turn this problem around, particularly when a rapid and dramatic improvement in our food system’s environmental performance could be achieved by simply moving away from animal-based products.

Eight remaining arguments are very weak

I have commented on these arguments elsewhere (see article links below), so will only comment briefly here.

Research

The “Target 100” title refers to one hundred industry initiatives, including research, aimed at improving its environmental performance. However, in terms of global warming, the performance of animal-based and plant-based products are on different paradigms. No amount of research is likely to reduce animal-based emissions to a level that is realistically comparable to that of the plant-based alternatives.

Land clearing

The industry states that it does not buy grain from the Amazon, and that the Australian industry’s emissions from deforestation have reduced dramatically since 2006.

However, we have cleared around 700,000 square kilometres of land in this country for animal agriculture, so we don’t need to look towards South America for staggering levels of environmental destruction. [10] Also, the legislation banning broadscale land clearing (subject to exemptions) was overturned by the Queensland Liberal National Party government in 2013 in respect of land deemed to be of “high agricultural value”. [11]

The recently elected Labor government may review that legislation, but the forests will always be at risk of further clearing, depending largely on the inclination of the government of the day. The recent free trade deal with China is likely to increase pressure for further livestock-related land clearing.

In any event, we must live with the legacy of foregone carbon sequestration, which is not accounted for in any official emissions figures.

Alignment with National Greenhouse Gas Inventory figures

The industry points out that the figures it uses are aligned with those of the Australian Government’s National Greenhouse Inventory.

That’s true, but as I have stated elsewhere, critical under-reporting of livestock’s impact occurs in many “official” figures because relevant factors are omitted entirely, classified under non-livestock headings, or considered but with conservative calculations. [12] Do we want to know what’s really happening so that we can identify necessary mitigation opportunities, or do we want it masked in this way?

Life Cycle Assessment Study

The life cycle assessment study cited and funded by the industry did not appear to include land clearing and certain other factors often included in such studies. [8] Even without those factors, the results were very poor, with beef’s emissions intensity figures being multiples of plant-based alternatives.

As an alternative, applying a 20-year GWP for relevant gases to the FAO’s average emissions intensity figure for specialised beef in Oceania (which includes Australia) [7], and adjusting for retail weight, would result in a figure of around 100 kg CO2-e/kg of product. The figure for grass fed beef in isolation would be significantly higher.

Grain grown solely for animals?

The industry claims that cattle are not consuming grains that humans can eat, and are therefore not depriving those who are undernourished of food.

The resources (including land) used to grow grain for cattle have many possible alternative uses, including food production for humans or regeneration of natural habitat, helping to draw down existing atmospheric carbon as a critical climate change mitigation measure. Utilising those resources to provide food for livestock in a grossly and inherently inefficient system is unnecessary, unjust, and incredibly damaging to the environment.

Livestock’s Long Shadow discrepancies

The industry has referred to some recognised discrepancies in the methodologies utilised by the FAO in its 2006 “Livestock’s Long Shadow” report. Regardless of those concerns, the FAO’s latest estimate of livestock’s contribution to global warming (14.5%) is significant, despite being extremely conservative. Regardless of the percentage arrived at, we are unlikely to overcome climate change without a general transition toward plant-based products. [13]

Great Barrier Reef

The industry says it accepts its role in seeking to improve the health of the Great Barrier Reef. Yet the 2012-13 report card of the Reef Water Quality Protection Plan (released in 2014) indicated that only 30 percent of graziers had adopted improved land management practices since the plan commenced in 2009. [14]

The 2013 Scientific Consensus Statement highlighted the livestock sector’s major role in destruction from pollution, primarily in relation to suspended solids (sediment), nitrogen and phosphorus. [15] The release of nitrogen and phosphorus, and the associated nutrient enrichment, contributes significantly to outbreaks of Crown of Thorn starfish, which have had a massive impact on the reef. [16]

World Wildlife Fund

The industry argues that “Cowspiracy” is incorrect in suggesting that no environmental groups are looking into the beef industry due to its political power. It refers to the World Wildlife Fund’s involvement in the Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef.

I argue that a transformational change of diet is required, rather than a search for “sustainable beef”, which is a term I regard as an oxymoron in the context of our current environmental emergencies, including climate change.

Of interest may be the fact that the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) has been accused of working with major business organisations that allegedly use the WWF brand to help improve their green credentials, while acting against the interests of the environment. [17]

What is methane?

The industry has also created a page headed “What is methane?“, which has (at the time of writing) some serious and not so serious shortcomings. [18]

Firstly, it says that methane is 25 times as potent as carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas. That figure is out of date. The IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) used a figure of 25 in 2007 but increased it to 34 (with climate carbon feedbacks) in its 2013 Fifth Assessment Report. [19]

Secondly, the figure is based on a 100-year time horizon. A 20-year time horizon may be more appropriate when considering methane’s emissions due to the relatively rapid breakdown of the gas in the atmosphere.  On that basis, the IPCC reports that methane is 86 times as potent as carbon dioxide (with climate carbon feedbacks).

The IPCC says, “There is no scientific argument for selecting 100 years compared with other choices. The choice of time horizon is a value judgement because it depends on the relative weight assigned to effects at different times.” [20] (NASA estimates the multiple to be 105 when allowing for direct and indirect radiative effects of aerosol responses.) [21]

Thirdly, the page refers to the “International” Panel on Climate Change, when the correct term is “Intergovernmental”, as referred to above.

Finally, the industry indicates that methane levels in the atmosphere have remained stable since 2000 “despite significant increases in livestock numbers globally”.  If only it were true. This is what’s happened to methane emissions according to the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration: [22]

Figure 2: Atmospheric Methane Concentrations (NOAA ESRL)

aggi.fig2-methane

Conclusion

The red meat industry can argue forever about the supposed environmental credentials of its products. However, we face a crisis in the form of climate change and other environmental issues. Those without a vested interest need to face the reality of that crisis, and fight for urgent action.

It is pleasing that the United States Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee has recently recommended a reduction in meat consumption for environmental and health reasons. [23] That development may add to the general awareness that appears to be developing in respect of climate change, including animal agriculture’s adverse impacts.

Author: 

Paul Mahony (also on Twitter, Scribd, Slideshare and Viva la Vegan)

Footnotes:

1. In assessing the industry’s various arguments, I have categorised two concerning grass-fed cows as methane arguments, due to the fact that grass-feeding is a key factor in that regard.

2. Dr Traill has said that there have been two reasons for the decline in native animal species as Aboriginal people left remote areas. The first is fire. “Drier areas were burnt in particular ways by Aboriginal people. The usual pattern was to have smaller spot fires in different seasons to create a patchwork of vegetation of various ages. This mosaic approach provides the right habitat mix for different animals, particularly some mammals.”  He points out that without people to manage the burning, most outback fires are larger and fiercer than they were previously. For example, in the western desert country of the Martu people, the average area of a single fire has increased from 64 hectares to 52,000 hectares. The second reason is invasive plant and animal species, including feral cats, rabbits, cane toads, water buffalo, goats, camels, pigs, donkeys, horses, cattle and noxious foreign weeds including various types of pasture grasses. He says: “To stay healthy, even our most remote landscapes need regular care and maintenance.”

3. For grass-fed beef, the FAO has reported a global average emissions intensity figure of 102.2 kg CO2-e/kg of product. The reference period is 2005. [24]

That figure was based on carcass weight. If we gross it up to allow for the fact that not all the carcass is used as end product for the dinner table, the figure increases to 140.2. That’s based on the US Department of Agriculture’s mid-range yield estimate of 72.8% for beef. [25]

When we then adjust the figure to allow for a 20-year global warming potential for methane (86 compared to 25) and nitrous oxide (268 compared to 298), it increases to 287. (The figure of 287 is slightly lower than a previous estimate (291) due to the adjustment of nitrous oxide’s GWP.)

The figure of 287 attributes all carcass weight emissions to retail cuts of meat. If emissions are also attributed to other products that may be derived from the carcass, utilising fat, bone and the like, then the emissions intensity of the retail cuts will be lower than shown here, at around 209 kg CO2-e/kg product.

The figures are based on the breakdown by the FAO of the different greenhouse gases contributing to beef’s emissions intensity (CO2 26.9%; CH4 44.0%; N2O 29.1%). As each of those percentages represents the average between grazing and mixed systems, the figures for grass-fed beef may be understated. That’s because methane’s share of emissions in a grazing system would be higher than in a mixed system, and the methane figure is grossed up considerably when adjusting for a 20 year global warming potential. The emissions intensity figures vary significantly by region.

The figures for soy beans and legumes are from a 2014 study by Oxford University researchers (Scarborough, et al.). [26]

Updates:

  • Additional comments added to Footnote 3 regarding the FAO’s reference period and methane’s share of emissions. (22nd Feb, 2015)
  • Figures in item #4 amended to reflect a reduction of 5.3% in emissions intensity over a period of 20 years, rather than 24 years. (Although the industry’s comments were published in 2014, they reflect 2010 production figures.) (22nd Feb, 2015)
  • Comments added in relation to the life cycle assessment study. (25th Feb, 2015)
  • Comments regarding retail cuts of meat added to Footnote 3 on 4th April, 2015.

Author: 

Paul Mahony (also on Twitter, Scribd, Slideshare and Viva la Vegan)

Main Image: From Cowspiracy: the sustainability secret, http://www.cowspiracy.com/. Used with permission.

Related articles:

Cowspiracy and the Australian red meat industry (9th Nov, 2014)

More on Cowspiracy and the Australian red meat industry (6th Dec, 2014)

Livestock and climate: Do percentages matter? (15th Nov, 2014)

References:

[1] Meat & Livestock Australia; Australian Lot Feeders Association; Australian Meat Industry Council; Sheep Meat Council of Australia; and Cattle Council of Australia, “Target 100: Cowspiracy”, 28th October and 24th November, 2014, http://www.target100.com.au/Hungry-for-Info/Target-100-Responds/Cowspiracy (accessed 21st February, 2015)

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

[3] Traill, B., “Populate or perish”, The Pew Charitable Trusts Outback Program, Opinion, 12th January, 2015, http://www.pewtrusts.org/en/about/news-room/opinion/2015/01/12/populate-or-perish

[4] “Pastoral lease reform: Opportunity knocks for Western Australia”, The Pew Charitable Trusts News, 27th October, 2014, http://www.pewtrusts.org/en/about/news-room/news/2014/10/27/pastoral-lease-reform-for-western-australia

[5] 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

[6] Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, “Tackling climate change through livestock: A global assessment of  emissions and mitigation opportunities”, Nov 2013, 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

[7] Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, “Greenhouse gas emissions from ruminant supply chains: A global life cycle assessment”, Nov 2013, Fig. 12, p. 30, http://www.fao.org/ag/againfo/resources/en/publications/tackling_climate_change/index.htm; http://www.fao.org/docrep/018/i3461e/i3461e.pdf

[8] Peters, G.M., Rowley, H.V., Wiedemann, S., Tucker, R., Short, M.D., Schultz, M., “Red Meat Production in Australia: Life Cycle Assessment and Comparison with Overseas Studies”, Environ. Sci. Technol., 2010, 44 (4), pp 1327–1332, DOI: 10.1021/es901131e, online January 12, 2010, http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/es901131e

[9] Mahony, P. “Do the math: There are too many cows!”, Terrastendo, 26th July, 2013, https://terrastendo.net/2013/07/26/do-the-math-there-are-too-many-cows/

[10] Derived from Russell, G. “The global food system and climate change – Part 1”, 9 Oct 2008, http://www.bravenewclimate.com, which utilised: Dept. of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities, State of the Environment Report 2006, Indicator: LD-01 The proportion and area of native vegetation and changes over time, March 2009; and ABS, 4613.0 “Australia’s Environment: Issues and Trends”, Jan 2010; and ABS 1301.0 Australian Year Book 2008, since updated for 2009-10, 16.13 Area of crops.

[11] Roberts, G, “Campbell Newman’s LNP bulldozing pre-election promise”, The Australian, 1 June, 2013, http://www.theaustralian.com.au/national-affairs/campbell-newmans-lnp-bulldozing-pre-election-promise/story-fn59niix-1226654740183; http://sunshinecoastbirds.blogspot.com.au/2013/06/campbell-newman-takes-axe-to-queensland.html

[12] Mahony, P., Omissions of Emissions: A Critical Climate Change Issue, Terrastendo, 9th February, 2013, https://terrastendo.net/2013/02/09/omissions-of-emissions-a-critical-climate-change-issue/

[13] Mahony, P. “Livestock and climate change: Do percentages matter?”, Terrastendo, 15th November, 2014, https://terrastendo.net/2014/11/15/livestock-and-climate-do-percentages-matter/

[14] 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

[15] Reef Water Quality Protection Plan, “Report Card 2012 and 2013″, June 2014, http://www.reefplan.qld.gov.au/measuring-success/report-cards/2012-2013-report-card.aspx

[16] 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

[17] Vidal, J., “WWF International accused of ‘selling its soul’ to corporations”, The Guardian, 4th October, 2014, http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/oct/04/wwf-international-selling-its-soul-corporations

[18] Meat & Livestock Australia; Australian Lot Feeders Association; Australian Meat Industry Council; Sheep Meat Council of Australia; and Cattle Council of Australia, “Target 100: What is methane?” (accessed 21st February, 2015), http://www.target100.com.au/Environment/Emissions/What-is-methane

[19] 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/

[20] ibid., pp. 711-712.

[21] 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, https://www.sciencemag.org/content/326/5953/716.figures-only

[22] NOAA Earth System Research Laboratory, “The NOAA Annual Greenhouse Gas Index (AGGI)”, Summer 2014, http://www.esrl.noaa.gov/gmd/aggi/aggi.html

[23] Rothkopf, J., “Major dietary guidelines report recommends decreasing meat consumption”, Salon.com, 20th February, 2015, http://www.salon.com/2015/02/19/major_dietary_guidelines_report_recommends_decreasing_meat_consumption/

[24] Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, “Tackling climate change through livestock: A global assessment of emissions and mitigation opportunities”, Nov 2013, extract of Fig. 7, p. 24 (Meat), http://www.fao.org/ag/againfo/resources/en/publications/tackling_climate_change/index.htm

[25] United States Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service, Agricultural Handbook No. 697, June, 1992 (website updated 10 September, 2013), “Weights, Measures, and Conversion
Factors for Agricultural Commodities and Their Products”, Table 11. p. 21,
http://www.ers.usda.gov/publications/ah-agricultural-handbook/ah697.aspx#.U0ihR6Ikykw

[26] 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, http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs10584-014-1169-1

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Note from author: My article An industry shooting itself in the foot consolidates and expands on material from this article and the article Cowspiracy and the Australian red meat industry. For now, here’s “More on Cowspiracy and the Australian red meat industry”:

In my post Cowspiracy and the Australian red meat industry, I responded to some comments from the industry on the documentary film, Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret. The industry has since commented further, and I respond to the latest comments below.

Meat Industry Claim: The industry says it invests in research to understand how it can continue to reduce emissions associated with beef production. It says, “If people would like to understand the research underway please visit our emissions page.”

My response: The first problem with the industry’s claim is that its emissions page indicates that “methane is 21-25 times more potent than carbon dioxide as a thermal warming  gas”. Those figures are out of date.

The IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) used a figure of 25 in 2007 but increased it to 34 (with carbon cycle feedbacks) in its 2013 Fifth Assessment Report. [1]

Another concern is that the figure is based on a 100-year time horizon. By using that period, traditional reporting methods have understated methane’s shorter-term climate change impacts. It’s the shorter term impacts that are now critical as we try to avoid climate change tipping points with potentially catastrophic and irreversible consequences.

The reason the shorter term impacts are understated when they are based on a 100-year time horizon is that methane breaks down in the atmosphere much faster than carbon dioxide, and is almost non-existent for much of that period.

The IPCC says that, over a 20-year time horizon, methane is 86 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. It has stated:

“There is no scientific argument for selecting 100 years compared with other choices. . . . The choice of time horizon is a value judgement since it depends on the relative weight assigned to effects at different times.” [2]

NASA’s estimate of methane’s potency over a 20-year time horizon is even higher than the IPCC’s, at 105 times that of carbon dioxide. [3]

Figure 1: Breakdown of Methane (CH4) and Carbon Dioxide (CO2) [4]

Methane-and-CO2-sharpened

Methane’s relatively rapid breakdown means that efforts to reduce relevant emissions represent a key climate change mitigation measure. The danger of continuing to mask its true impact by adopting only a 100 year time horizon is that a critical measure can be overlooked or ignored.

Meat Industry Claim: “That said, emissions are one aspect of environmental management and while enormous focus is placed on how to reduce methane production this needs to be done with consideration for impacts on other important environmental factors such as biodiversity.”

My response: Indeed. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has stated, that livestock production “is one of the major causes of the world’s most pressing environmental problems, including global warming, land degradation, air and water pollution, and loss of biodiversity.” [5]

The FAO has reduced its estimate of livestock’s share of greenhouse gas emissions since that time from 18 to 14.5 percent, but it continues to highlight its serious impacts. (In any event, both emissions figures are conservative for reasons referred to elsewhere in this article.)

Meat Industry Claim: “It is incorrect to suggest there is little room for improvement in reducing emissions associated with beef production. Recent research by CSIRO, State Departments and Universities through the National Livestock Methane Program has demonstrated a number of ways to reduce methane emissions. These include genetic selection for lower emitting bulls and sires, forages selected for lower methane emissions, novel supplements that can be used for lot feeding and investigating of rumen microbes that may be able to be manipulated to reduce emissions.”

My response: As stated in my previous post on this subject, the emissions intensity figures of livestock and plant foods represent different paradigms. Research on animal-based foods is really only tweaking around the edges of the problem.

In my article “The 3 percent diet“, using FAO data as the basis for further calculations, I showed that the global average greenhouse gas emissions intensity of beef from grass-fed cows is 291 kg (kilograms) of emissions per kg of end product. That’s based on the 20-year global warming potential for methane, and relates to the end product, rather than the carcass.

Even if we were to assume that factors such as feed digestibility, management practices, reproduction performance and land use meant that the emissions intensity of Australian grass-fed beef was half the global average, it would still be more than forty times higher than most plant-based alternatives (145 kg versus approximately 3.5 kg). (Please also see the the postscripts below.)

Figure 2: Emissions intensity of various foods with GWP 20 for methane (kg CO2-e/kg of product)

Emissions-intensity

The chart assumes Australian grass-fed beef’s emissions intensity is half the global grass-fed beef average.

Regardless of the emissions intensity of the product, if we are to have any chance of reducing the atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide to the critical 350 ppm (parts per million) target suggested by leading climate scientist, Dr James Hansen and colleagues, we must massively reforest. [6] The only way to reforest to the degree required is to reduce the extent of animal agriculture.

We must also reduce emissions of non-CO2 warming agents. Livestock is a critical factor in that regard.

Meat Industry Claim: “The Australian industry accepts its role, along with other agricultural industries including sugar and horticulture to improve the health of the Great Barrier Reef. A grazing best management practices (BMP) program which is backed by the Queensland Government, Agforce and catchment management authorities from reef catchments works with landholders on improving environmental performance, with one benefit being a reduction of run-off onto the reef.”

My response: The 2013 Scientific Consensus Statement of the Queensland government’s Reef Water Quality Protection Plan Secretariat reported that research on pollutants has focussed on suspended solids (sediment), nitrogen, phosphorus and pesticides. [7]

The statement confirmed that grazing areas in the catchment were responsible for the following pollutant loads to the Great Barrier Reef lagoon:

  • 75 percent of suspended solids
  • 54 percent of phosphorus
  • 40 percent of nitrogen

Sugarcane’s main impact, in the form of nitrogen and pesticides, was high relative to the land area involved. The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority has stated, “Grazing of cattle for beef production is the largest single land use on the catchment with cropping, mainly of sugarcane, and urban/residential development considerably less in areal extent.” [8]

The 2012-13 report card on the Reef Water Quality Protection Plan (released in June, 2014) indicated that only 30 percent of graziers had adopted improved land management practices since the plan commenced in 2009. Although it’s pleasing that the figure has increased from the 2011 figure of 11 percent, the figure is still well below a pass mark. It’s also a long way behind horticulture producers at 59 percent and sugarcane growers at 49 percent. [9]

Meat Industry Claim: “The percentage of emissions attributable to the beef industry in Australia has been challenged with various figures presented. The figures that we use are aligned with the Australian Government National Inventory figures, which are built on internationally agreed standards for calculating emissions. Other calculations are not aligned with current international scientific standards used for emissions reporting.”

My response: I commented on this issue in my February, 2013 article Omissions of Emissions: A Critical Climate Change Issue“. [10] I stated that critical under-reporting of livestock’s impact occurs in many “official” figures because relevant factors are omitted entirely, classified under non-livestock headings, or considered but with conservative calculations.

If we want to identify meaningful climate change mitigation opportunities, we must realistically assign emissions to their true source; we are not doing so at present.

One of the items not reported in official greenhouse gas emissions figures, which is relevant to comments that follow on livestock-related land clearing, is the ongoing loss of carbon sequestration caused by the massive amount of such clearing since European settlement.

In any event, even the IPCC excludes critical factors from projections of temperature, sea level rise and the like, so practices such as this in relation to climate change are not new or surprising. All must be challenged if we are to retain a habitable planet. [Footnote]

Meat Industry Claim: “While historically deforestation was a major part of the northern industry’s emission contributions, since 2006 there has been a dramatic reduction in emissions from deforestation. It is incorrect to assume all deforestation occurs for beef production. Emissions related to deforestation has [sic] gone from 140 MT CO2 to 40 MT CO2 between 1990-2014.”

My response: The extent of any sector’s contribution to deforestation will vary over time. For example, extensive clearing occurred for livestock production in Queensland for decades until the then Labor Government banned such clearing (with certain exemptions) with effect from the end of 2006. However, the current Liberal National Party government led by Premier Campbell Newman has recently legislated to again allow significant levels of land clearing. Land that was protected under Labor’s legislation can now be cleared if deemed to be of “high agricultural value”. [11]

A 2003 paper commissioned by the Australian Greenhouse Office reported that 85.1 percent of Australian deforestation during the reference period occurred for livestock production. [12]  In Queensland alone, from 1988 to 2008, around 78,000 square kilometres of land were cleared for livestock. That’s roughly equivalent to 3.3 x 10 kilometre wide tracts of land cleared between Melbourne and Cairns (distance 2,317 km). [13]

Figure 3: Depiction of Queensland land area cleared for livestock 1988-2008

Aust-map

Assume each arrowed line is 10 km wide. 3.3 x 10 km x distance = 78,000 sq km.

With meat exports being a key factor in the new trade agreement between Australia and China, there will be increasing pressure to clear virgin forest and areas of regrowth.

Conclusion

The livestock sector’s greenhouse gas emissions come from factors that are inherent to the industry. As much as the industry and its supporters (including consumers) may like to argue that it can produce sustainably, that will not be possible if we seek to rely on it to adequately feed the world’s current and future human population.

Author:  Paul Mahony (also on Twitter, Scribd, Slideshare and Viva la Vegan)

Footnote: Former Australian of the Year and head of the Climate Council, Professor Tim Flannery, has described IPCC reports as “painfully conservative”. [14] Former senior fossil fuel industry executive and now climate change campaigner, Ian Dunlop, says the IPCC mentions but fails to quantify major risks and related tipping points “caused by non-linear feedback loops, where the climate may flip from one relatively stable state to another far less conducive both to human development and to the economic stability . . .”. [15]

Postscript 8th December, 2014: The emissions intensity chart has been updated to include “Vegetables – Other” (simply described here as “Vegetables”) at 2.2 kg and“Pulses – Other” at 3.5 kg from the relevant Oxford study (Scarborough et al. as referred to in my linked “3 percent diet” article).  They were the highest-rated plant-based foods from that study that I would consider to be part of a staple diet.

Postscript 4th April, 2015: The emissions intensity figure for grass-fed beef attributes all carcass weight emissions to retail cuts of meat. If emissions are also attributed to other products that may be derived from the carcass, utilising fat, bone and the like, then the emissions intensity of the retail cuts will be around 28 percent lower than the figure shown here, namely around 104, rather than 145 kg CO2-e/kg product.

Related articles:Omissions of Emissions: a Critical Climate Change Issue” and “Cowspiracy and the Australian red meat industry

Main Image: Rural scene Cattle sunrise © Clearviewstock | Dreamstime.com

Map: http://www.street-directory.com.au. Used with permission. (Cairns inserted by this author.)

References:

[1]   Romm, J. “More Bad News For Fracking: IPCC Warns Methane Traps Much More Heat Than We Thought”, Climate Progress, 2 Oct 2013, http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2013/10/02/2708911/fracking-ipcc-methane/ citing Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, “Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis”, http://www.ipcc.ch/report/ar5/wg1/

[2] Romm, J., ibid.

[3] Schindell, 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

[4] Image: Smith, K., University of California – Berkeley, cited in World Preservation Foundation, “Reducing Shorter-Lived Climate Forcers through Dietary Change: Our best chance for preserving global food security and protecting nations vulnerable to climate change” (undated), http://www.worldpreservationfoundation.org/Downloads/ReducingShorterLivedClimateForcersThroughDietaryChange.pdf

[5] The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, “Livestock impacts on the environment”, Spotlight 2006, November 2006, http://www.fao.org/ag/magazine/0612sp1.htm

[6] Hansen, J; Sato, M; Kharecha, P; Beerling, D; Berner, R; Masson-Delmotte, V; Pagani, M; Raymo, M; Royer, D.L.; and Zachos, J.C. “Target Atmospheric CO2: Where Should Humanity Aim?”, 2008, Open Atmos. Sci. J., 2, Supplementary Material, p. xvi, doi:10.2174/1874282300802010217, http://pubs.giss.nasa.gov/docs/2008/2008_Hansen_etal_1.pdf

[7] 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

[8] J. Brodie, C. Christie, M. Devlin, D. Haynes, S. Morris, M. Ramsay, J. Waterhouse and H. Yorkston, “Catchment management and the Great Barrier Reef”, pp. 203 & 205, Water Science and Technology Vol 43 No 9 pp 203–211 © IWA Publishing 2001, http://www-public.jcu.edu.au/learningskills/idc/groups/public/documents/journal_article/jcudev_015629~5.pdf and http://www.iwaponline.com/wst/04309/wst043090203.htm

[9] Reef Water Quality Protection Plan, “Report Card 2012 and 2013”, June 2014, http://www.reefplan.qld.gov.au/measuring-success/report-cards/2012-2013-report-card.aspx

[10] Mahony, P., Omissions of Emissions: A Critical Climate Change Issue, Terrastendo, 9th February, 2013, https://terrastendo.net/2013/02/09/omissions-of-emissions-a-critical-climate-change-issue/

[11] Roberts, G, “Campbell Newman’s LNP bulldozing pre-election promise”, The Australian, 1 June, 2013, http://www.theaustralian.com.au/national-affairs/campbell-newmans-lnp-bulldozing-pre-election-promise/story-fn59niix-1226654740183; http://sunshinecoastbirds.blogspot.com.au/2013/06/campbell-newman-takes-axe-to-queensland.html

[12] George Wilkenfeld & Associates Pty Ltd and Energy Strategies, National Greenhouse Gas Inventory 1990, 1995, 1999, End Use Allocation of Emissions Report to the Australian Greenhouse Office, 2003

[13] Derived from Bisshop, G. & Pavlidis, L, “Deforestation and land degradation in Queensland – The culprit”, Article 5, 16th Biennial Australian Association for Environmental Education Conference, Australian National University, Canberra, 26-30 September 2010

[14] Spratt, D, “Global Warming – No more business as usual: This is an emergency!”, Environmental Activists’ Conference 2008: Climate Emergency – No More Business as Usual, 10 October, 2008, reproduced in Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal, http://links.org.au/node/683

[15] Vorath, S. and Parkinson, G., “BHP wants carbon price and more, Dunlop says still not good enough“, Renew Economy, 24th October, 2014, http://reneweconomy.com.au/2014/coal-man-turned-climate-activist-ian-dunlop-second-tilt-bhp-board-92158

Like me, you might be accustomed to seeing percentage figures on posters and elsewhere, indicating livestock’s share of greenhouse gas emissions.

Here’s an image showing a poster from the People’s Climate March in New York in September, 2014.

51-percent-poster-enhanced

I’m not keen on quoting figures indicating livestock’s climate change impacts, unless I can try to explain them. Posters are not a great way to do that.

One problem is that, while environmental processes are dynamic, the figures are often portrayed as if they’re set in stone.

Another problem is that the figures depend on whichever factors have been taken into account, which can vary significantly from one report to another.

I commented on that issue in my February, 2013 article Omissions of Emissions: A Critical Climate Change Issue“. [1] I stated that critical under-reporting of livestock’s impact occurs  in many “official” figures because relevant factors are omitted entirely, classified under non-livestock headings, or considered but with conservative calculations.

An example of the latter is methane’s impact based on a 100-year, rather than 20-year, global warming potential(GWP). Methane is many times more potent than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas, and more so over a 20 year time horizon than 100 years. More on that below.

So while figures are often portrayed as being absolute, they should ideally be qualified so as to explain how they have been arrived at. That might not be very practical, but the issues are complex and cannot always be conveyed appropriately with just a few words or numbers.

Some prominent claims 

Livestock reported to be responsible for 18 percent of emissions (which is more than transport)

In its 2006 “Livestock’s Long Shadow” report, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) stated that livestock’s emissions represented 18 percent of the global total in the 2005 reference period. The figure was said to be higher than transport’s share. [2]

In September 2013, the FAO reduced its estimate of livestock’s share to 14.5 percent, yet that figure seems to have received relatively little attention. [3] As with “Livestock’s Long Shadow”, the reference period was 2005, but the assessment methodology had been amended. [4] The reasoning was that the FAO had used or relied on different methods for assessing the relative emissions of livestock and transport. In other words, they had not compared “apples with apples”. [5]

Despite the amended approach, both the 2006 and 2013 reports included emissions from fertiliser and feed production, land clearing, manure management, enteric fermentation (producing methane in the animal’s digestive system) and transportation of livestock animals and their feed. Both were based on the conservative 100-year GWP for methane.

Livestock reported to be responsible for at least 51 percent of emissions

The suggestion that livestock are responsible for at least 51 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions came from a 2009 World Watch magazine article by Robert Goodland and Jeff Anhang. [6] Goodland was the lead environmental adviser to the World Bank, and Anhang is a research officer and environmental specialist at the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation.

The article was effectively a critique of “Livestock’s Long Shadow”, with amended figures reflecting the authors’ concerns over the report.  The authors took into account various factors, including: livestock respiration; 20-year GWP for livestock-related methane; and some allowance for foregone carbon sequestration on land previously cleared.

1. Livestock respiration

The authors argued that livestock respiration was overwhelming photosynthesis in absorbing carbon due to the massive human-driven increase in livestock numbers and removal of vegetation. Goodland subsequently stated, “In our assessment, reality no longer reflects the old model of the carbon cycle, in which photosynthesis balanced respiration”. [7]

Some have argued against the inclusion of respiration. Based on my calculations, by excluding that factor, the analysis would have indicated that livestock’s emissions represented 43 percent of the global total.

2. Methane

Goodland and Anhang applied a 20-year GWP to livestock-related methane emissions, which is particularly relevant to: (a) potential near-term climate change tipping points; and (b) identification of relatively rapid mitigation measures.

Methane breaks down in the atmosphere relatively quickly, with little remaining after 20 years. As a result, a 100-year GWP greatly understates its shorter-term impact.

Even methane’s near-term impacts can become long-term and irreversible to the extent that they contribute to us reaching tipping points and runaway climate change.

Comments from the IPCC, cited by respected climate change commentator, Joseph Romm, reflect the validity of using a 20-year GWP:

“There is no scientific argument for selecting 100 years compared with other choices (Fuglestvedt et al., 2003; Shine, 2009). The choice of time horizon is a value judgement since it depends on the relative weight assigned to effects at different times.” [8]

A possible cause for concern in this case is that the authors did not adopt the same approach for non-livestock methane emissions. Goodland has since stated, “Because we questioned many aspects of the FAO’s work, we were reluctant to use their figures for methane, but did so anyway for livestock methane because we couldn’t find a more reliable figure”. [9] 

Goodland has argued that the impact of such an approach would have been more than offset by the fact that the number of livestock animals they based their assessments on (being the number used in “Livestock’s Long Shadow”) was far below the figure of 56 billion that the FAO’s statistical division had reported in 2007. He and Anhang became aware of the higher figure after their article was published.

The authors used the IPCC’s GWP estimate of 72 that applied at the time of the article. The IPCC has since increased the figure to 86 (incorporating carbon cycle feedbacks), while NASA estimates a figure of 105. [10]

With the rapid increase in extraction of unconventional fossil fuels since 2005, the growth in other anthropogenic sources of methane may have caused livestock’s share of emissions to reduce from what it would otherwise have been.

3. Foregone sequestration

The FAO allowed for emissions from land clearing in the year such changes occurred, with loss of carbon from vegetation and soil. However, it did not allow for the resultant ongoing loss of carbon sequestration.

Goodland and Anhang sought to allow for that factor to some extent. They suggested the possibility of allowing land that has been cleared for livestock grazing or feed crop production to regenerate as forest, thereby mitigating “as much as half (or even more) of anthropogenic GHGs” [greenhouse gases]. They argued that the land could, alternatively, be used to grow crops for direct human consumption or crops that could be converted to biofuels, thereby reducing our reliance on coal. They used the biofuel scenario in their calculations, incorporating the greenhouse gas emissions from the coal that is continuing to be used in lieu of the biofuels.

Goodland’s response to feedback to the 2009 World Watch article can be seen in his March/April, 2010 article, ‘Livestock and Climate Change’: Critical Comments and Responses (referred to above).

Australian Emissions

Estimates of animal agriculture’s share of Australian emissions range from the official figure of around 10 percent to 49 percent.

The Australian government’s 2012 National Inventory Report used a figure of 10.9 percent, representing the aggregate of: (a) enteric fermentation in the digestive systems of ruminant animals; and (b) manure management. The figure was based on a 100-year GWP for methane. [11]

The 49 percent figure is from the land use plan released in October 2014 by Beyond Zero Emissions and Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute (The University of Melbourne). The figure allows for factors such as: a 20-year GWP; livestock related land clearing and subsequent soil carbon loss; and livestock related non-carbon dioxide warming agents such as carbon monoxide and tropospheric ozone. [12]

The overall figure for animal agriculture may actually be higher than 49 percent using BZE’s calculations, as they have reported it solely in relation to rangeland grazing. However, their figure for all agriculture is only marginally higher, at 54 percent.

Cowspiracy: some modification may be beneficial

The documentary film Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret focuses on the environmental impacts of animal agriculture. Those behind it seem to have significantly raised community  awareness of this critical issue. [13]

I am yet to see the film, but have reviewed the climate change material from its website.

At the time of writing, the site’s “facts” page shows the FAO’s 2006 figure of 18 percent for animal agriculture. A footnote has been added, confirming the FAO’s 2013 estimate of 14.5 percent, as referred to above.

The page then states (with my underline), “livestock and their byproducts actually account for . . . at least 51 percent of all worldwide greenhouse gas emissions”.

The word “actually” implies an absolute, definitive figure, with none of the qualifying comments of the type I have referred to above. I am uncomfortable with the thought of relying on the figure in that way.

The site also indicates that “methane is 25-100 times more destructive than CO2” and “methane has a global warming power 86 times that of CO2”.

Both statements appear to be referring to methane’s GWP (global warming potential).

The presentation referred to for the figure of 86 is attributed to Erika Podest of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. [14] However, it does not seem to refer to that figure, which is the IPCC’s current 20-year GWP after allowing for carbon cycle feedbacks. (Without those feedbacks, the IPCC’s current estimate is 84.)

Instead, the presentation refers to a GWP of 25 (slide 8), which is the 100-year figure from the IPCC’s 2007 Fourth Assessment Report. In its Fifth Assessment Report from 2013, the IPCC used a figure of 34.

The referenced article for the figures of 25-100 actually indicates an upper figure of 105. Perhaps ironically, it comes from NASA researchers. [10]

Please also see the postscript of 16th November, 2014 below.

The main message

Regardless of which approach is adopted, the key message must be that we will not overcome climate change without urgent action on both fossil fuels and animal agriculture.

The precise percentage share of the many contributors to greenhouse gas emissions matters little in that context.

An alternative poster

Here’s my contribution to the world of posters, which I like to believe accurately represents our current position.

Additional Comments

A large proportion of the organisations that partnered with the FAO in reviewing its methodology were major participants in the livestock sector. They included the European Feed Manufacturers’ Federation, the International Dairy Federation, the International Meat Secretariat, the International Egg Commission, and the International Poultry Council. [15]

The FAO is now indicating that meat consumption will increase by more than 70 percent by 2050, and has suggested various approaches for reducing relevant emissions. However, any improvement in the emissions intensity of production would be marginal relative to the reductions that could be achieved by a general move toward plant-based products.

The partnership also included the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), which has been accused of working with major business organisations that allegedly use the WWF brand to help improve their green credentials, while acting against the interests of the environment. [16]

As I have reported elsewhere, the partnership was chaired by Dr. Frank Mitloehner of the University of California, Davis, who has disclosed research funding from the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association. [17]

Author:  Paul Mahony (also on Twitter, Scribd, Slideshare and Viva la Vegan)

Related articles:Omissions of Emissions: a Critical Climate Change Issue” and “Cowspiracy and the Australian red meat industry

Postscript 16th November, 2014: I will comment elsewhere on other aspects of Cowspiracy’s “facts” page. However, one I will mention here is the suggestion that cows emit methane through “farting”. The cited article from the International Business Times appears to be incorrect in that regard, as the emissions primarily occur through belching, with a relatively small amount released from “manure management” (being a category specified in the National Greenhouse Accounts). It may seem a trivial issue, but I am concerned that it can appear within a page that people refer to as an authoritative resource. It also reinforces a major misconception about livestock’s emissions that causes many people to laugh them off.

Images:

Image from the People’s Climate March from video on the Facebook page of “Cowspiracy: The sustainability secret”, https://www.facebook.com/video.php?v=288706614654201

Final poster image © Gkuna | Dreamstime.comGrazing Cows Photo

References:

[1] Mahony, P., Omissions of Emissions: A Critical Climate Change Issue, Terrastendo, 9th February, 2013, https://terrastendo.net/2013/02/09/omissions-of-emissions-a-critical-climate-change-issue/

[2] Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 2006 “Livestock’s Long Shadow – Environmental Issues and Concerns”, p. xxi, Rome, http://www.fao.org/docrep/010/a0701e/a0701e00.HTM (Related FAO articles at http://www.fao.org/ag/magazine/0612sp1.htm; and http://www.fao.org/newsroom/en/news/2006/1000448/)

[3] Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 26th September, 2013, “Major cuts of greenhouse gas emissions from livestock within reach”, http://www.fao.org/news/story/en/item/197608/icode/

[4] Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, “Methodology: Tackling climate change through livestock”, http://www.fao.org/news/story/en/item/197644/icode/

[5] Brainard, C., “Meat vs Miles”, The Observatory, 29th March, 2010, http://www.cjr.org/the_observatory/meat_vs_miles.php?page=all

[6] Goodland, R & Anhang, J, “Livestock and Climate Change – What if the key actors in climate change are cows, pigs, and chickens?”, World Watch, Nov/Dec, 2009, pp 10-19, http://www.worldwatch.org/files /pdf/Livestock%20and%20Climate%20Change.pdf

[7] Goodland, R., “Lifting lifestock’s long shadow”, Nature Climate Change 3, 2 (2013) doi:10.1038/nclimate1755, Published online 21 December 2012, http://www.nature.com/nclimate/journal/v3/n1/full/nclimate1755.html and http://www.readcube.com/articles/10.1038/nclimate1755

[8] Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Fifth Assessment Report, 2014, http://www.ipcc.ch/report/ar5/, cited in Romm, J., “More Bad News For Fracking: IPCC Warns Methane Traps More Heat”, The Energy Collective, 7th October, 2013, http://theenergycollective.com/josephromm/284336/more-bad-news-fracking-ipcc-warns-methane-traps-much-more-heat-we-thought

[9] Goodland, R., “‘Livestock and Climate Change’: Critical Comments and Responses”, World Watch, Mar/Apr, 2010, http://www.chompingclimatechange.org/uploads/8/0/6/9/8069267/livestock_and_climate_change_critical_comments_and_responses.pdf

[10] Schindell, 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

[11] Australian National Greenhouse Accounts National Inventory Report 2012, Volume 1, pp. 39 and 257, http://www.environment.gov.au/climate-change/greenhouse-gas-measurement/publications/national-inventory-report-2012

[12] Beyond Zero Emissions and Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute, The University of Melbourne, “Zero Carbon Australia, Land Use: Agriculture and Forestry Discussion Paper”, p. 68 & 97, October, 2014, http://bze.org.au/landuse

[13] “Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret”, http://www.cowspiracy.com/

[14] Podest, E., “Methane: its role as a greenhouse gas”, Greenhouse Gases Professional Development Workshop, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasedena, California, 21st April, 2012, http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/education/pdfs/podest_ghg.pdf, cited in “Cowspiracy: The Facts”, http://www.cowspiracy.com/facts/

[15] Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, “New effort to harmonize measurement of livestock’s environmental impacts”, 4th July, 2012, http://www.fao.org/news/story/en/item/150555/icode/

[16] Huismann, W., Panda Leaks: the dark side of the WWF“, cited in Vidal, J., “WWF International accused of ‘selling its soul’ to corporations”, The Guardian, 4th October, 2014, http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/oct/04/wwf-international-selling-its-soul-corporations

[17] Goodland, R., FAO’s New Parternship with the Livestock Industry“, Chomping Climate Change, 20th July, 2012, http://www.chompingclimatechange.org/blog/faos-new-parternship-with-the-livestock-industry

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