Beef Needs to Become Environmentally-Friendly

IRELAND - Beef has one of the biggest carbon footprints of any food and as a result Europe will have to produce less in the future to deal with climate change, a conference was warned.
calendar icon 13 November 2009
clock icon 2 minute read

The methane challenge was spelled out by experts who showed that 32 per cent of global green house gas emissions come from agriculture – and a large proportion of that from cattle, reports The Irish Examiner.

While Ireland has managed to reduce the amount of methane its huge herd of cattle produces compared to some other countries, cattle are still responsible for a third of emissions.

One cow produces the equivalent every year of green house gases that a car would driven from Brussels to Tokyo and back, Ariel Brunner, the agriculture policy officer with Birdlife International told The Irish Examiner.

"We do have a livestock problem," he told a conference organised by Labour MEP Nessa Childers in the European Parliament.

But the answer is not to get rid of cattle or to put them indoors. The automatic response is to turn to factory farming, but keeping them indoors and fed on grain leads to diseases and epidemics.

It also leads to land being used for something other than grazing, and grassland acts as a carbon sink, absorbing greenhouse gases. About 92 per cent of Ireland’s land is under permanent pasture, the largest percentage in the EU.

But if ploughed it would releases gases, Mr Brunner said. There should be a balance between land being a sink or a source but currently land in Europe is emitting more than it is absorbing, Mr Brunner said.

The EU is no longer self-sufficient in beef, but the answer is not to stop rearing cattle and import from abroad, as this just displaces the problem, he said.

Mass vegetarianism is not the answer either but suggestions that the world needs to increase meat production by 85 per cent over the next few decades to feed the fast growing population were ridiculous.

Instead what was needed was less but better quality meat, preferably fed on grassland, and to achieve this, consumers needed to be educated, he added.

Ingrid Rydberg of the Federation of Swedish Farmers said they have developed a climate-friendly label allowing consumers to choose varieties of food based on which brand has made the most progress in reducing its carbon footprint.

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