Grazed and confused?
Ruminating on cattle, grazing systems, methane, nitrous oxide, the soil carbon sequestration question – and what it all means for greenhouse gas emissions
Today, I am very pleased to present to you the findings of a newly published report on which I am co-lead author with Tara Garnett from the Food Climate Research Network at the University of Oxford. This project reflects two years of collaborative effort that involved different research institutions. We aimed at answering the following question: Is grassfed beef good or bad for the climate?
When it comes to climate change, agriculture and the livestock industry often get a bad press. Around 14.5% of human-related greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions come from livestock. However, both consumers and policymakers have a much looser grasp on the differences in climate impact between different types of livestock systems. A major source of confusion and debate is about the impact of “grass-fed” beef. Is grass-fed beef good or bad for the climate?
This study, based on an extensive and detailed review of the literature, dissects claims made by different stakeholders and aims to provide clarity to the often highly polarised debate around livestock production and consumption, and the merits or otherwise of different production systems.
This report finds that better management of grass-fed livestock, while worthwhile in and of itself, does not offer a significant solution to climate change as only under very specific conditions can they help sequester carbon. This sequestering of carbon is even then time-limited, reversible and in aggregate small and substantially outweighed by the greenhouse gas emissions these grazing animals generate. The study concludes that although there can be other benefits to grazing livestock – solving climate change isn’t one of them.
Want to find out more about the project?
Full report, summary, media coverage and expert commentaries here
CSIRO blog “It’s not hot air: livestock and climate change”