Australia’s strong livestock sustainability story shared on the global stage

Beef Central, 29/09/2023


AUSTRALIA’S strong livestock sustainability story was shared during the first Global Conference on Sustainable Livestock, staged in Rome this week by the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation.

The Federal Government’s agriculture trade group deputy secretary Nicola Hinder told the conference the Australian red meat industry had reduced emissions by 65 percent since 2005, and our grain and grassfed beef farms were below the global median for emissions intensity.

Ms Hinder also noted the diversity in agricultural contexts regarding sustainability must be recognised.

“Australia would like to thank the FAO for the promotion of balanced science and evidence-based discussions, as we are having today on livestock sustainability,” she said.

“Australia’s absolutely promotes an outcomes-based, common-sense approach to agricultural sustainability. One that focusses on environmental, economic and social outcomes; and one that acknowledges that there is diversity of circumstances between countries – ie there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach – supporting policies and regulations that are underpinned by transparent science and risk-based decision-making, while avoiding market-distorting policies and promoting the role of the multi-lateral trading system including a transparent, predictable, open, and fair markets,” Ms Hinder said.

In a practical and on-sense farm way, how does this translate, though? she asked.

“We look to adopt land management practices that manage water, soil,  nutrients, waste and emissions; establish grazing systems that incorporate pastures that are resilient to hotter and much drier or more variable climates; and we also drive innovation via genetic improvement.

“And the FAO’s four ‘betters’ (better production, better nutrition, better environment and better life) encapsulate Australia’s multi-faceted approach to sustainability.”

“On better production, Australia heavily invests in innovation R&D, because we recognise it as important to improve livestock production, so that we can continue to produce more, with less.

“Australia heavily invests in R&D because we know it’s a powerful driver of production, and in Australia, for every $1 invested in agricultural R&D, it delivers around $7.80 in benefits for farmers, within ten years. This has enabled huge productivity gains.

Global need to re-purpose subsidies into R&D

“While we are also looking at increased R&D, we are also focussed on how we support our agricultural sectors. We genuinely believe there is a global need to reconsider approaches and re-purpose environmentally-harmful supports, such as subsidies, to greater investment in innovation and R&D.

Between 2019 and 2021, subsidy support towards the agricultural sector from 54 major economies reached US$817 billion, and that figure was steadily increasing, Ms Hinder said.

“While the support may be well intended, we do believe it does not deliver the intended result, and instead, stifles innovation, harms efficient farmers, decreases prices and causes environmental damage – including through the over-use of herbicides, fertilisers and water.”

“And if we serious about actually achieving the sustainable development goal of zero hunger by 2030, and increasing productivity by 28pc, we must act now – and that does include tackling subsidies.”

Like in Australia, livestock food systems in other parts of the world enable the production of nutritious food, where conditions may not suit other food production, Ms Hinder said.

“We recognise that a third of global protein comes from livestock, and the consumption of animal-based foods can help reduce stunting and wasting of children of less than five years of age, low birth weights and anaemia in women of reproductive age.

“The FAO notes that eating more meat and eggs can substantially benefit poor people living in low income regions – especially pregnant women, children and the elderly. And livelihoods enabled by the livestock sector also mean greater access to food,” she said.

“Australia’s livestock sector does show what is possible to minimise environmental footprints. Our red meat industry has reduced its emissions by 65pc since 2005, and are below the global median for emissions intensity.

“Sixty one percent of broadacre grazing farms in Australia, and 86pc of dairy farms have adopted a form of conservation grazing, and we have 7.6 million hectares of cattle producing land set aside for conservation or protection purposes. In simple terms, that’s around 2.3 percent of Australia’s available land grazing space, and an area larger than Ireland.”

  • A video of Ms Hinder’s full presentation can be accessed here. Readers will need to fast-forward to 1:10:24 to catch the start of her address.

NFF backs need for global dialogue around sustainability

The National Farmers Federation acknowledged the FAO for supporting global dialogue on the future of the livestock sector that was grounded in science and evidence-based discussion.

“This is the right forum for such a global discussion,” NFF chief executive Tony Mahar said in a statement.

“These discussions are critically important, and we need to continue to acknowledge there is no one-size fits all approach to agricultural sustainability.”

The Rome conference discussed the key themes of better production, nutrition, environment, and life, highlighting that the livestock sector plays a central role in providing important nutrients for a healthy diet and a third of global protein.

“The livestock sector accounts for 38pc of Australia’s agricultural production. It’s important to the livelihoods of thousands of Australian farmers and productively uses the significant amount of Australia’s land not suitable to cropping,” Mr Maher said.

“Measuring enteric methane remained an important issue to resolve as GWP or similar looks to be more accurate and representative,” he said.

Mr Mahar endorsed the Government’s call for a reduction in harmful agricultural supports and market distorting policies, the ongoing commitment to the role of the multi-lateral trading system, and its aims of open and fair markets.

“These policies actually create poorer environmental outcomes. If we are serious about sustainability, these must also be on the table for discussion.”

He emphasised the importance of fast-tracking innovation that mitigates livestock-related GHG emission and reiterated the importance of Australia’s world class research and development system as a far more effective way to ensure sustainability outcomes are achieved.

“NFF is committed to building on this discussion on sustainable livestock and looks forward to the industry’s perspective on the important role livestock has in modern agriculture and food systems at the UNFCCC COP28 gathering in Dubai later this year.”


Background to first global conference on sustainable livestock transformation

The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation this week hosted the first global conference on sustainable livestock transformation in Rome.

Participants from multiple sectors and around the world gathered for the event, which aimed to address the challenge of how to produce more with less environmental impact, less social impact and more economic return with greater equity.

“Livestock production is a vital part of our agrifood systems, providing essential nutrients for all and enhanced livelihoods and economic opportunities for billions of people around the world,” FAO director-general QU Dongyu said.

FAO advocates that improving efficiency is essential to producing more with less. In the case of livestock, efficiency can be pursued by optimising feed conversion, reducing feed loss and waste and enhancing nutrient utilisation, all of which can reduce pressure on biodiversity and land and water resources, as well as decrease greenhouse gas emissions and mitigate environmental degradation, he said.

“We should appreciate all the people who provide and produce animal protein products, and then work together on how to improve all the challenges related to the sector,” Mr Qu said. Many children in the world do not have access to milk, he emphasised.

Successful sustainable livestock transformation also required an integrated approach that mitigates the risk of zoonotic diseases and tackles the issue of anti-microbial resistance (AMR), he said.

The Director-General urged all participants to actively share their expertise, insights and experiences, emphasising that the conference has been designed to give voice to all stakeholders including small-scale farmers and pastoralists, indigenous communities and marginalised groups.

Keynote addresses were given by experts based in North Africa and East Africa, while the director of FAO’s Animal Production and Health Division gave a presentation on FAO’s initiatives in the area of livestock and the environment.

The proceedings consisted of several high-level panels focusing on policy and plenary sessions organised in alignment with the ‘Four Betters’: Better Production, Better Nutrition, a Better Environment and a Better Life.

Senior government officials from Australia, Brazil, New Zealand, Saudi Arabia, Switzerland, Indonesia, Uruguay and Laos participated in high-level panel sessions.

Topics discussed range from animal feed and genetics, animal health and welfare, human nutrition and technological innovations including cell-based foods, expanding to case studies in climate mitigation and adaptation practices, natural resource management and the state of knowledge regarding greenhouse gas emissions.






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  1. Tony Gleeson, 01/10/2023

    Global efforts to mitigate climate change and the future of the agricultural sector are not well served by Government and industry representatives gilding the lily about reducing emissions.

    Australia’s livestock sustainability record, and in fact Australia’s record on reducing carbon emissions, need to be tempered by an analysis of the sources of the estimated reductions.

    In simple terms Australia’s emissions have increased if one excludes claims from changes in land practices (reduced clearing). Additionally, these changed practices are responsible for the great majority of reduced emissions from the agricultural sector.

    There are limits to future lowering of emissions from reducing land clearing. Secondly, these reductions arise from regulatory changes rather than from industry-initiated innovations. And thirdly the extent of reductions in land clearing is contested by highly respected scientists at Queensland University and at the Australian National University.

    There are some prospective R&D initiatives.

    However, at best Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA) and the National Farmer’s Federation (NFF) have failed to support various initiatives to put in place soundly based systems to encourage and facilitate improved environmental outcomes; at worst they have actively opposed such initiatives.

    We have the technology and knowledge to implement cost-effective voluntary systems to verify improving environmental outcomes. Such systems need to have ecological integrity and be whole-of-farm, landscape linked and be credibly audited. Critically they need to strengthen natural and human capital and help improve productivity.

    Australia needs to not only advocate for balance and evidence-based discussions but to apply this approach domestically.

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