Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Livestock Targetted as a Scapegoat for Greenhouse Gases and Climate Change

[modified from material originally by Pat Francis, Editor of Australian Farm Journal - Tuesday, 15 May 2007]

A scapegoat growing in popularity for contributing to greenhouse climate change is ruminant livestock, of which there are millions in both Australia and New Zealand, and these are at times the focus of some healthy mocking about their emissions.

Ruminants emit methane as part of their digestive processes, so consumers can reduce their greenhouse footprint by eating less red meat. Really???

City-based print and television is promoting this line of thinking.

The recent Coolaid program on Channel 10 left viewers with a strong message to eat less red meat and The Age newspaper in Melbourne [ one of Australia's large circulation capital city dailies] recently suggested in a "Guide for Young Consumers" that "you can save 10,000 litres of water and 300 kilograms of greenhouse pollution a year just by cutting one 150-gram serve of meat per week".

Such generalisation needs to be challenged and the role of ruminant livestock in Australia and the world's environment promoted.

Few people understand the critical role ruminants play in preserving the biological health of the world’s rangelands and farmlands by digesting plant fibre from pastures, crops and by-products of food production. While modern farming practice has fine tuned the role livestock play to meet a component of western consumers' food requirements, their fundamental importance to environmental integrity of the planet remains unaltered. In Australia especially, most livestock are bred and grow on pastures or rangelands, with some being finished for a short period in feedlots.

What ruminants do in the natural world cannot be handled as successfully by any other animal.

They convert fibrous plant matter, often of low digestibility and in remote regions, into live weight and organic matter. Combined with the organic matter contribution from the grazed plant the overall impact is improved soil biology, better soil structure and increased carbon sequestration. There is some help from earthworms and termites in this carbon and nutrient turnover, but ruminants are of major importance in this environmental role. Remember the vast herds [mostly ruminants] across the African plains..........

This perspective promoted by city based media which only accounts for the carbon emissions from ruminant livestock is unbalanced, and fails to understand the dynamic, interrelated processes associated with ruminant livestock, food processing by-products, plant leaf and root growth, manure, and soil organic matter and carbon, plus issues around reduction of potential fuel loads for wild fires across grassland areas, livelihood generation and utilisation and management of land.

Those consumers looking to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions associated with red meat and dairy products are likely to have more impact by scrutinising products more closely and making a decision based on excessive food miles, the level of food processing of the base product, excessive use of packaging materials and other inputs, rather than by reducing their level of consumption of these essential products. They may just reduce their feeling of well being too......afterall both these food groups can be pleasurable to consume. These products have a significant role in providing healthy nutrition, protein, vitamins and minerals essential for human health, when consumed in moderation.

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