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<p>Fiona Katauskas</p>

Fiona Katauskas

The Carnivore's (Ongoing) Dilemma

Saving the planet is not as simple as 'less meat = less heat'. Indeed, the conscientious eater — particularly in Australia — might be better off with a steak than a slab of tofu.


When News Limited began its 1 Degree program, which aimed to make the company carbon neutral, it invited employees to submit the steps they would take to reduce their own personal greenhouse-gas emissions. In response a number of News employees offered to reduce the amount of red meat in their diets, or even cut out eating meat altogether.

In that choice, they joined such eminences as Britain's Lord Stern, the Nobel-winning Rajendra Pachauri of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and the vegetarian Sir Paul McCartney who popularised the phrase: less meat = less heat.

Eckard points out much of Australia’s rangelands were never cleared: “All the northern rangelands, they weren’t cleared, they were just stocked with cattle.”

Popular wisdom has it that industrial livestock production is killing the environment. But while there are some sound reasons to eat less meat or even become a vegetarian, doing it to save the planet is not necessarily one of them.

We can look at it this way: red meat comes from cattle and sheep, which play a vital role in utilising grasslands, the 60 per cent of the world's farmland unfit for any other agriculture. When the world's population of hungry people is rapidly growing, you have to ask whether we can ethically refuse to produce food from so much land.

We could also consider the fact that, on mixed farms — those that run livestock and grow crops — the animals play a critical role in eating farm waste and providing natural fertiliser. If human diets shift towards more legumes such as soybeans, that will mean more cropping and the accompanying need for more irrigation and higher inputs of nitrogenous fertilisers, which pose their own serious greenhouse-gas emission problem (more on this later).

As the implications of people swapping meat for vegetables are totted up, there are signs that the greenhouse-gas debate is changing.

In his book, Meat: A Benign Extravagance, Simon Fairlie, a British journalist and farmer, makes a strong case for sustainable, small-scale farming that incorporates livestock. So persuasive is his argument that Fairlie's book famously convinced well-known environment writer George Monbiot that his pro-vegan stance was wrong.

The case for meat is not helped by the fact that two of the earliest, most influential and most frequently quoted contributions to the debate are wrong. First was the Food and Agriculture Organisation's report Livestock's Long Shadow, which claimed 18 per cent of global greenhouse-gas emissions come from livestock. More recently, the International Panel for Climate Change put livestock greenhouse-gas emissions at 5.4 per cent of global emissions.

The other highly quotable early entrant was US researcher David Pimentel's claim that it takes 100,000 litres of water to produce one kilogram of beef.

<p>Scott Olson/Getty Images</p>

Scott Olson/Getty Images

However the Water Footprint Network estimates a global average water footprint of 15,400 litres of water per kg of beef. Beef grown on Australian farms seems to require less again, with research by a team including Brad Ridoutt from the CSIRO estimating water use at 6.6 to 440 litres per kg.

Ridoutt explains: "When people use these figures of 100,000 or even 15,000 [litres of water] these numbers go out into the public domain. The information is not given about what these numbers mean. It just becomes a source of misinformation that can be used in quite a scandalous way."

Ridoutt is working with the International Organisation for Standardisation to set up a rigorous system, similar to carbon footprinting, that would give comparable figures for water usage by all kinds of agriculture and other human pursuits. "The underlying question is to what extent is producing this product contributing to a reduction in fresh water that is available for the environment or for others to use."

Fairlie ridiculed Pimentel's figure, citing the case of Bramley, an Angus/Jersey cross steer he raised. He estimated that if the 100,000 litres per kg was correct, young Bramley would have had to consume about 25,000 litres of water a day.

If people were to abandon eating red meat, some grasslands, like the Serengeti, might be repopulated by wild ruminants. But the more likely fate of Australia’s grasslands would be consumption by fire.

What makes all this so difficult to precisely calculate is that we're talking about animals, not machines. Farmed animals are biological individuals with different constitutions and diets, living in different geographies, bred and used for different purposes, playing different roles in different farm systems. The result is huge variability in the productivity and resource consumption of livestock around the world: for example, beef produced in Africa in a Sahelian pastoral system — where cattle are used for transport, and ownership is an indicator of wealth — has the lowest carbon footprint at 8.4 kg of greenhouse gases per kilogram of meat; whereas beef produced in Japan, from the world's most pampered cattle, has the highest value at 26 kg of greenhouse gases per kilogram of meat.

Livestock's Long Shadow has cast its own long shadow over the livestock CO2 emissions debate. Richard Eckard, associate professor with the Melbourne School of Land and Environment, along with many other scientists, disputes their cliam that livestock contribute 18 per cent of the world's emissions, as it counts both cattle not raised for consumption and land not in fact used for livestock.

They say Long Shadow overestimated how much of the land clearing in the Amazon was for livestock — when up to 40 per cent is cropped with soybeans. Eckard adds: "You have all the cattle in India for religious reasons, the cattle in Africa used for transport and wealth generation — a lot do not get consumed."

Deforestation figures highly in Long Shadow 's sums, but Eckard points out much of Australia's rangelands were never cleared. "All the northern rangelands, they weren't cleared, they were just stocked with cattle," he says. In fact, most clearing, in Australia, has been for cropping.

<p>FRED TANNEAU/AFP/GettyImages</p>

FRED TANNEAU/AFP/GettyImages

Ross Garnaut's Climate Change Review, updated last year, reported that although greenhouse-gas emissions from livestock accounted for about 10 per cent of Australia's total, those emissions have declined by 13 per cent since 1990, largely because of a fall in sheep numbers — which dropped from 174 to 74 million. He pointed out that commercially motivated improvements in animal husbandry have "incidentally reduced emissions per unit of output. These developments could go further," Garnaut says.

The former chief of CSIRO Livestock Industries, Alan Bell, estimates beef cattle account for up to seven per cent of Australia's greenhouse-gas emissions. And that figure is set to fall. Townsville-based CSIRO scientist Ed Charmley says recent work shows cattle in the northern rangelands are producing 20 to 30 per cent less methane than previous estimates. With about half the nation's cattle in the north, this means a significant downward revision.

Most of the world's livestock consumes grass. Ruminant animals, such as cows and sheep, possess a special stomach or rumen which contains microbes that can digest grass — and a byproduct of that digestion is the greenhouse gas, methane. This means ruminants produce protein from plants in areas that are unsuitable for any other agricultural activity.

Grasslands occur on land where the soil is too poor, the rainfall too low or the topography too rough for the land to be ploughed and planted with crops.

“People say ruminants produce methane and are less efficient than pigs and poultry, but think about all that grain that we need to produce protein from pigs and poultry.”

And before there were modern cattle there were wild ruminants, including the great bison herds of the US prairies and the wildebeest of the African savanna, which had adapted to these grassy regions.

George Seddon has argued the main herbivores in Australia were termites, which, interestingly, also produce methane. Eckard says that in the Northern Territory "it is quite feasible that termites are producing more methane on an area basis than livestock".

Australia also has kangaroos, which, unusually among the large herbivorous animals, are not ruminants, and produce significantly less methane than cows, for example.

Methane, or CH4, is a potent, if short-lived greenhouse gas. It is given a global warming potential rating of 25 times that of carbon dioxide. Methane is the main component of natural gas and coal seam gas. It is also produced from landfill, but the largest source of methane is wetlands.

<p>Cate Gillon/Getty Images</p>

Cate Gillon/Getty Images

Eckard explains the quantity of methane a ruminant produces is affected by its diet — a poor diet results in higher methane production — and by genetics. He says there can be a 15 per cent difference in methane emissions within one herd, determined by these two factors.

The steak-versus-lentils argument is further complicated by the fact that grasslands have been found to play another important role in keeping our atmosphere in balance: that is, they sequester, or fix, carbon that would otherwise be released into the atmosphere.

Helen King, former deputy director of the Co-operative Research Centre for Greenhouse Gas Accounting, says, "There is a lot of research that [indicates] if areas [of grassland] are not grazed, or are not managed, they actually take up less carbon, so grazing animals play a very active role in the carbon cycle. Well-managed grass-fed beef is a totally different proposition to growing grains to feed animals or growing grains for consumption."

If people were to abandon eating red meat, some grasslands, like the Serengeti, might be repopulated by wild ruminants. But the more likely fate of Australia's grasslands would be consumption by fire. Bushfires, on average, burn over 500,000 square km of Australia annually, mainly the grasslands in the northern half of the country. Bushfire accounts for about three per cent of the nation's net greenhouse-gas emissions.

Research into organic farms finds that on the one hand they are less energy intensive than conventional farming, but they are also less productive, so organic livestock is more greenhouse gas intensive.

One of the charges made against livestock in general is that it consumes grains that would otherwise be used to feed people. But in Australia, livestock is largely fed grain and oilseed products that would not be used for human consumption.

Feeding grain to cattle doesn't bring great returns in the desired generation of protein: cattle require eight to 10 kilograms of grain to produce one kilogram of meat. Pigs, on the other hand, require three kilograms of feed and chicken requires just 1.7 kg of grain to produce one kilogram of meat.

Australians are eating less red meat, anyway. Beef consumption has more than halved since 1977, to 31.7 kg per person. Over the same period, consumption of chicken meat has rocketed from 15 to 45.2 kg per person. The great Aussie barbecue has paled significantly, which is, on one level, in step with our aims of greenhouse-gas reduction.

Every kilogram of beef produces 24 kg of greenhouse gases. Pork and chicken (both products of non-ruminants) generate much less, at 4.1 and 0.8 kg respectively.

<p>YASUYOSHI CHIBA/AFP/GettyImages</p>

YASUYOSHI CHIBA/AFP/GettyImages

And yet, "People say ruminants produce methane and are less efficient than pigs and poultry, but think about all that grain that we need to produce protein from pigs and poultry," Bell says. The argument has moved from red meat to meat and poultry generally.

Even Australian cattle don't spend their whole lives on grass; at any time, only about two per cent of the herd is in feedlots, being fed grain. Bell says feedlots are "a tough one for the environmentalists, particularly around methane". Many environmentalists oppose feedlotting due to its intensive nature and the high-grain diet. But feedlot cattle grow more quickly than grass-fed cattle, and that means they emit less greenhouse gas before they're slaughtered for their meat. As a result, Australian grain-fed cattle are estimated to produce 38 per cent fewer greenhouse-gas emissions than those raised on grass. They emit less again if they are administered Hormone Growth Promotants. In another context this would sound unpalatable, but here it makes sense.

Tara Garnett, from the Food Climate Research Network, at the University of Surrey in the UK, argues that if people didn't eat livestock, fewer cereal crops would be needed for livestock, but more would be required for humans.

Garnett also estimates that Britons throw out between 18 and 20 million tonnes of food a year. Australians are estimated to waste four million tonnes a year. Once, that food waste went to the pigs and poultry that were an integral part of farms and households — now it is simply wasted.

“There is no simple quick-fix solution, such as ‘Stop eating meat’, because it is a complex system — there are consequences and knock-on effects.”

Animal products supply a third of all the world's protein. If we eliminated livestock we would have to produce half as much again vegetable protein crops to replace meat.

But in Australia the shift from pasture to crop land results in a reduction in soil carbon. Increasing soil carbon will be critical to Australia's future carbon balance. And the most effective way to increase carbon levels in soil used for agriculture is to return crop land to well-managed pasture, preferably native pasture.

And there's another problem. Crops need nitrogen, most of which comes from synthetic nitrogen fertiliser. Making nitrogen fertiliser is a very energy-intensive process, using at least one to two per cent of the world's energy supply. Then the fertiliser, once applied to crops, breaks down to become the potent greenhouse gas nitrous oxide, which has a global warming potential (GWP) of 298. The base unit for GWP is carbon dioxide, which is given a value of one at 20, 100 and 500 years. Methane has a GWP at 100 years of 25. There are other minor contributors, but carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide are the three main greenhouse gases.

Organic farms fix nitrogen in the soil, naturally increasing its fertility through growing legume crops. And this lowers their productivity, because on a stockless farm, around one-third of fields are taken out of grain production for natural nitrogen fixing at any given time.

<p>GREG WOOD/AFP/Getty Images</p>

GREG WOOD/AFP/Getty Images

And here is the next conundrum for the environmentalist.

Garnett says that research into organic farms finds that, on the one hand, they are less energy intensive than conventional farming, but they are also less productive, so organic livestock is more greenhouse-gas intensive.

Bell hesitates to put a figure on the productivity of Australian organic farming, but says, "All the data I have seen, more from North America than here, says that organic is always going to be less efficient."

Can you absorb another complication? Because… there's the issue of what it takes to produce meat substitutes.

“Eckard questions whether the emphasis on reducing greenhouse gases should be placed on agriculture at all. “If we are going to have greenhouse-gas emissions from something, is food production more legitimate than your transport preference?””

A study by Cranfield University, commissioned by the environmental group World Wildlife Fund, reported that many meat substitutes consumed in Britain are produced from soy, chickpeas and lentils that are grown overseas and imported. A switch to these substitutes would result in more foreign land being cultivated, and raise the risk of forests being destroyed to create farmland. It also found meat substitutes tended to be highly processed and involved energy-intensive production methods.

One of the study's authors, Donal Murphy-Bokern, said: "For some people, tofu and other meat substitutes symbolise environmental friendliness, but they are not necessarily the badge of merit people claim."

While the UK imports all its soybeans from cleared Amazon forest, last year at least, Australia grew about 14 per cent of its own soybeans, under fairly inefficient, water-sucking conditions. Ridoutt says consumers are demanding more transparent information about the water footprint and carbon footprints of their food. "In the States people are using their iPhones to download this kind of information, or reading it off bar codes."

But he warns that everyone needs to understand they are dealing with systems that are more complicated than current apps or bar codes can contend with.

Just four litres of petrol uses what was 90 tonnes of ancient life. In the space of one year, the world uses over 400 years of stored ancient energy and carbon.

"The first point is there is no simple quick-fix solution, such as 'Stop eating meat', because it is a complex system —there are consequences and knock-on effects." He cites the example of the push to "a more industrial meat-production system, based on chickens and pigs. Traditionally, a lot of these animals were raised on waste. Now, to make the productivity very high, very nutritious diets are being fed to them, so the land base that is supporting those forms of meat production is very much in conflict with the land base we might be using to produce cereals we might directly consume. You push in one direction, often it pushes out somewhere else."

In the meantime, something unexplained is happening to methane levels. Until 1999, as ruminant numbers rose, so did methane concentrations in the atmosphere. Then methane concentrations plateaued. No one is quite sure why. Bell suggests it could be due to drought and human activities, such as drainage, shrinking natural wetlands. Or perhaps the number of ruminants hasn't risen so much.

It certainly raised questions in some quarters about the importance of ruminant livestock in global methane accounting, and in the value of attempting to reduce it. Bell says that in the past two or three years the atmospheric methane level has begun to rise again, but it will be a couple of years before climate scientists can call this a real trend.

So what is the environmentally conscious consumer to do? Australians have a unique alternative to farmed meats: kangaroo. Eckard says kangaroos and wallabies have a microbial digestive system, similar to ruminants, except the main byproduct is succinate. While they do produce some methane, it is significantly less per kilogram than the volumes produced by ruminants.

There are only a few studies on macropod emissions. The most recent, on red-necked wallabies in the Copenhagen Zoo, found they produced between 25 and 33 per cent of the methane of a ruminant, per unit of food ingested.

That's just one hop in the bucket, so to speak, but overall, Eckard questions whether the emphasis on reducing greenhouse gases should be placed on agriculture. "If we are going to have greenhouse-gas emissions from something, is food production more legitimate than your transport preference?" This is the real nub of the question.

Fossil fuels consist of carbon, sequestered using the energy of the sun hundreds of millions of years ago. The scale of our consumption of this ancient carbon and sunlight is mind-boggling. Just four litres of petrol uses what was 90 tonnes of ancient life. In the space of one year, the world uses over 400 years of stored ancient energy and carbon.

As Helen King says, industrial use of fossil fuel is a one-way street. "Only the natural environment can take up carbon. Industrial emissions put carbon into the atmosphere, but can't take it out again."

There are so many conundrums for the consumer who wants to be environmentally conscious. If you walk or cycle to the butcher shop, take home some locally grown steak and cook it, to rare, over natural gas, is your carbon footprint smaller than if you'd driven to the supermarket, bought a soy-based product that was grown and processed overseas, then had to throw out leftovers because the kids wouldn't eat it?

One thing is clear: saving the planet is not as simple as giving up red meat.

Read more The Global Mail stories on the Australian scientist who pioneered the Glycemic Index, the heavy impact of obesity on the world's population count, and a healthy lunch program nourishing young bodies and minds at Baryulgil primary school.

16 comments on this story
by Laura Dalrymple

This is an excellent piece that brings together some of the complex strands of this discussion. More people should read Simon Fairlie.

August 30, 2012 @ 8:17am
by Nick Sharp

My son sports a T-shirt picturing roast beef. Above, it declares "MEAT IS MURDER".

Quietly below it adds "tasty, tasty murder!"

As an omnivore, I do like a nice bit of lamb or beef as well as some chicken and pork, but despite articles such as this, I continue to counsel myself that less would be better, not least for the waistline!

But the whole situation is immensely confusing. Many arguments compare different things, and rely on questionable statistics.

The base unit for GWP (global warming potential) is carbon dioxide, which is given a value of one at 20, 100 and 500 years. OK so far.

But then: "Methane has a GWP at 100 years of 25."

Close enough, but pointless? Methane's "half-life" in the atmosphere is around 7 years, so after 100 years any emitted methane has reduced to a trivial 0.005% of its original quantity. Early into its release, it is probably about 100 times worse than CO2.

THEREFORE, an action, such as significantly and rapidly reducing methane emissions, could have a dramatic effect on reducing global warming quickly. That could be very valuable.

True, there are many lands where pasture and grazing are the only sensible options. Perhaps in Australia we should concentrate more on the use of marsupials, since they release much less methane, though there are challenges of "farming" roos (similar to herding cats?), and they have a poor yield of meat to total body weight. Maybe research trying to transfer roo stomach biota to ruminants will bring results.

We also have to look at the whole-of-society picture, rather than just whether to have another steak. The use of land for cropping instead of pasture does not have to include large fossil-fuelled fertiliser inputs IF (as eventually we MUST) we return all human and kitchen wastes to the land. Otherwise, at the very least, we exhaust the phosphates.

If humanity wishes to live, perhaps for many millions more years, on a finite planet, it HAS to start obeying obvious rules such as:

Stop using UP non-renewables
Stop over-harvesting fragile renewables
Nurture: the land, waters, air, and most species

More limited use of animals in agriculture will almost certainly continue indefinitely, but it has to be in the context of major changes in society's structure that recognises "there is NO planET B".

More on all that in my little work "A Zillion Year Plan ... for humanity":

http://bit.ly/djT522

@nickjsharp

August 30, 2012 @ 8:23am
by Corey Watts

Asa is right to conclude that the issue is more complicated than simply eating less meat. And she is right to point to the problems with crop production. Much of her article is insightful.

However, she leads the reader up a few false tracks:

Methane levels in the atmosphere have NOT plateaued. They appeared to do so between the late 90s and the mid-2000s but have since resumed their rise, albeit more slowly than in the past. There is a complex interplay between sources of methane (natural and artificial) and sinks. Livestock have and continue to play a significant part in atmospheric methane (and nitrous oxide, from fertilizers and urine). More than 20% of methane of human origin stems from livestock, whose numbers have veritably boomed since pre-industrial times and are growing still.

Termites are surely not the issue? We are concerned with humanity's impact on the climate.

The role of cattle in the northern Australian landscape is complex, to be sure, but it is far from benign. Fire regimes have been altered, semi-arid country badly eroded in places, and large areas of woodlands cleared (still) in Queensland and the Northern Territory.

The question is not that should we reduce emissions at the expense of good food and fibre. This is a false dilemma. Indeed, much of the ongoing work on emissions abatement in agriculture is focused on raising productivity, not reducing it.

Emissions need to be reduced from all industries if we are to effectively minimize the risk of dangerous climate change. The challenge for farmers and pastoralists is not to respond to the problem with over-sensitivity but to do so smartly; demonstrating that they can and ought to be part of the solution—and ought to be rewarded appropriately. This means recognizing the problem in the first instance.

August 30, 2012 @ 10:38am
by Patrick

This is not a strong piece; it's a confusing melange of international and local statistics and facts that shouldn't go together (e.g use local stats for cattle, international stats for our soybean farming etc), frequently assumes the best case for farming and the worse case for cropping, and ties itself into pretzels trying to make the facts fit the the thesis.

There's some basic failures to understand the carbon cycle vis lifestock (where does the methane et al cattle produce come from? The grass. Where does the grass get its carbon from? The atmosphere).

August 30, 2012 @ 5:39pm
by Elspeth McIntosh

I can appreciate the effort that has been put into this article but I feel that various parts have been either misleading or have not been fairly compared - and correct me if I'm wrong.

The issue of general biodiversity loss to make way for both livestock and their required feed worldwide has not been addressed - it has only been addressed as far as the Australian landscape is concerned - which has less agricultural land available than France in the first place - which is clearly much smaller and has a very different climate.

Your argument also includes general fire burn-offs around Australia but does not also include the burnoffs for pastures, so the fact that you say that the grasslands can store carbon would seem to be ruled out by these burnoffs? This is one that I put a question mark to because I don't have all of the answers to this one.

While you may say that most of the world's livestock consumes grass you are not taking into account the combined grain and fish meal that is fed to livestock - they are not all just fed pure grain - where overfished areas are selling their excess marine life to put towards feed.

I also question whether your figure on what kind of livestock we eat is true as I had heard that the majority of livestock is made up of chickens who you say "only" eat 1.7kg of grain to produce 1kg of meat - which is more than their own weight! I do question your figures around what kinds of livestock are being eaten and I don't see anything in there about eating fish and the affects that that has on marine life.

Never mind the fact that eroded soils from livestock are washing into our oceans and making it easier for the nitrogen to enter the waterways and clogging up coral reefs which already quashes marine biodiversity - overfishing has not even been addressed.

I would also have liked to have seen more emphasise on what we CAN do to help the planet apart from just eating kangaroo instead (and again not mentioning marine life). Plenty of people go to eat kangaroo and hate the texture so they soon go back to eating other land animals - it's great in theory but not in practice and people are generally lazy shoppers.

I don't think that everything you have written is pure hogwash but I would have liked to have seen these particular points debated more clearly.

August 30, 2012 @ 7:20pm
by Robert Merkel

In most of the developed world, even where ruminants are grazed, they are grazed intensively on grass grown with the aid of fertilizers (and pesticides, and herbicides) at stocking rates far in excess of what can be managed on the natural grass.

Furthermore, much of this land would revert not to natural grassland, but woodland or forest which sequesters substantial amounts of carbon.

As for bushfires, you do realize that bushfires result in zero net CO2 emissions provided the forest regrows over time?

August 30, 2012 @ 9:10pm
by Patrick

This is an interesting but flawed polemic. Of course a vegetarian diet is better for the environment than an omniverous one.

The article is at great pains to run through each part of a stat that is favourable to its argument, but ignores the obvious counter arguments.

Meat production is presented as a low water environmentally friendly option compared to 'fairly inefficient, water sucking' soybeans. But of course about 80% of all the grain and legumes we produce goes to feed the animals we slaughter for meat. And as the article points out, we do this at a ratio of several kilos of plant input for every kilo of meat output. So any environmenally unsound issues with plant production are multiplied in meat production, then added to by the factories, feedlots, abbatoirs (and of course farm and drinking water that the animals need.)

This same underlying point affects the argument that 60% of our farmland could only be used for red-meat agriculture. If we cut back on meat, there is all that extra legume produce for human consumption that we are not using to fatten cows. We will then not need to use all of this land, and some of it could be reforested.

If we are going to continue to eat meat, we should at least be honest about what it means (for us, animals and the environment) and not contort ourselves trying to create faux arguments to make us feel better about it.

August 31, 2012 @ 10:39am
by David

Thanks for a valuable article. This is a seriously complex issue- there are so many variables. The trade-offs are complex and situation-specific, even before you get into socio-cultural issues (locust-protein, anyone?).

The first step is to acknowledge that a one-size fits all approach is doomed to failure. Me? I'm going with Michael Pollan.

August 31, 2012 @ 6:48pm
by Kate

Disappointing article. As someone who has returned to eating meat after 8 years of vegetarianism - on the basis that I'm tired of the social battle and simply not sure what the benefits of vegetarianism are regarding the impact of soy, rice, wheat and such on the environment (and human welfare) - I'm very interested in this debate. But this article skips so many of the pro-vegetarianism counter arguments that I'm not sure which parts I can trust, if any. Certainly much CSIRO research seems affiliated with funding from the Australian meat industry, so there goes trust in that source. Do you consider the origins and motives behind your other statistics at all?

And when you wrap up your argument with the statement that a locally bought steak (bought via bicycle) is preferable to tofu (bought via driving) that "the kids wouldn't eat", your bias is obvious and simplistic. Very disappointing article.

This is a real debate that deserves better treatment, particularly from the Global Mail team.

September 1, 2012 @ 8:22am
by Nick Sharp

"There are only a few studies on macropod emissions. The most recent, on red-necked wallabies in the Copenhagen Zoo, found they produced between 25 and 33 per cent of the methane of a ruminant, per unit of food ingested."

Could TGM sometime expand on this greatly please, with references, and convering as many relevant marsupials as possible? It could be a really important part of Australia's contribution to reducing GW. The above study seems to contradict most commentaries which suggest roos emit almost no methane. Perhaps the Copenhagen Zoo was feeding them Danish for breakfast?

September 2, 2012 @ 9:15am
by Wallace

So the answer is??? Stop eating meat? stop eating grains? stop eating???
I feel as though in many ways we are making things more complex than they should be...
Start by consuming less - less meat, less imported products, less fossil fuel (this doesn't necessarily mean giving them up altogether).
Try increasing exercise (more walking/riding & less petrol), try growing some of your own fresh produce or buying locally grown (including meat).
Perhaps to some this approach is too simplistic - but if a large chunk of our population adjusted personal choice and habits just a little it would start to make a large impact overall.

September 3, 2012 @ 5:20pm
by Andrea Koch

Thanks Asa for an excellent and long overdue article to open up this can of worms. I get it! Perhaps you could write a book on the subject for all those who aren't quite there yet...

September 4, 2012 @ 2:15pm
by Simon

a) this article smells like the meat and livestock lobby to me.
b) visit an abattoir before you get all high and mighty about the virtues of meat eating. The panic and terror expressed by the animals as they are being led to slaughter is unforgettable.

September 5, 2012 @ 12:55pm
Show previous 13 comments
by Alistair

A well written article. I have been a primary producer for 20 years and have been involved in both grain production and extensive beef cattle grazing, The carbon cycle is a critical component of our sustainability and for this reason we stopped cropping our farm several years ago. Our farm's sustainability and biodiversity has improved tenfold since this decision. Water use per kilo of beef produced includes natural rainfall, and that rainfall will occur regardless of land use wether cropping or grazing. The only 'extra' water used in our production system is for the 'grazing animal' to drink, and this is pumped by either solar or wind power. Next time you bite into your Lentils, read this article: http://agritech.tnau.ac.in/crop_protection/crop_prot_disease_faqs.html
I will stick with eating my organic beef.

September 8, 2012 @ 3:00pm
by FLY

Nothing complex or confusing about eating animal flesh. Just be honest!
Being a 'vegetarian' for over thirty years, I am quite healthy, giving birth to a very healthy baby at forty, and so on.
We do not need to eat meat!!!
With the abundant variety of beautiful foods at our fingertips, a meat free diet should be easy to achieve.
It is not just environmental degradation, or the waste of resources such as water, 440 litres to produce a kilo of meat is still a hell of a lot of water!!!! It is the animal welfare , or lack of it , that is questionable to me.
People who qualify eating meat by saying, "we are meant to eat it, we're omnivorous, it is good for you, great source of protien, animals are here for us to use, (in the bible), it is easy to prepare etc, farmers will lose their livelihood, plus the knock on effects associated irritate me.. just say you enjoy eating it, but don't rub it in my face.
My conscience is clear, just like my bowels.

September 8, 2012 @ 5:49pm
by FLY

Read the article Alistair,
What is your point....all plants are subject to pest and disease, and with Climate Change making it's presence known good sustainable practices such as yours, 'organic' will ensure survival.
Water is life, and if you do not need to supplement your production, all is well.
What I have witnessed over my life time, shows pastures are very thirsty, and a lot producers tended to wasre their allocation.
Everything we eat requires water, and it is a well known fact meat production requires a lot more, whether pasture or grain...being a secondary product for us humans. Except for the fact of having to impregnate cows, and 'unwanted' calves, even a live cow is far more productive than a dead one.
Vegetarianism is the saviour!

September 10, 2012 @ 10:47am
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