What steps the Australian red meat industry is taking to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions was a front of mind topic for senators when Meat & Livestock Australia managing director Jason Strong appeared before a Senate Estimates committee hearing in Canberra last night.
Labor Senator Glen Sterle congratulated MLA on the Australian red meat industry’s ambitious target to achieve carbon neutrality by 2030 (CN2030), before drawing attention to recent resistance by Coalition parliamentarians to similar proposed targets at a Federal level.
In February Anthony Albanese announced a commitment that a Labor Government will adopt a target of zero net emissions in Australia by 2050, a target which Nationals and some Liberals have opposed, arguing it would be unworkable for the Australian economy.
Senator Sterle noted that “several politicians” have stated that a zero net emissions target by 2050 “will shutdown the entire agricultural sector”.
He asked Mr Strong if the CN2030 plan had the support of the red meat sector and, in a follow up question, asked if it had the support of recently re-appointed agriculture Minister David Littleproud.
In answer to the first question Mr Strong said that while there were varying views, the CN2030 target did have the support of the red meat sector.
“I think when we look at the consumer data and knowledge and information, and the fact that we’re exposed with 70 percent of our beef and half of our sheepmeat to international markets, and the increasing interest from the community and our consumers about how our product is produced, it is something we have to be very proactive about,” he said.
Mr Strong said MLA had not had a direct conversation with the Minister about the CN2030 target since Mr Littleproud was reappointed to the portfolio last month.
However, he said Mr Littleproud had been part of the discussion in his previous roles, and had demonstrated his commitment to innovation and investing in solutions to set industries up for long term success.
“It is certainly something we look forward to discussing with the minister,” Mr Strong said.
Then asked by Senator Sterle for his own thoughts on claims by some politicians that a zero net emissions target would shut down agriculture, Mr Strong batted the question back, saying “there are a whole range of challenges for us in that question” and said MLA was not a lobby group.
“We are very aware of some of those views and I think we’re also aware of the sensitivity and challenges around this issue,” he said.
“But I think part of our responsibility as an RDC is to make sure that we have the best information available that relates to the community and our consumers and the potential demand and risks that are presented to our industry, and to put in place things that allow us to respond and react to those in the best way possible we can.
“We understand there are some different political views and will stay out of that as much as we can, but at the simplest level we don’t agree with that being the case, and if people have those sorts of concerns then we have an obligation to work on getting in front of them and that’s absolutely what we’re doing.
“I’ll go back to what I was saying before that the CN2030 goal is absolutely connected to the intergenerational sustainability of these businesses and increasing efficiency and profitability of our industry, and those three things have to remain directly connected to each other.”
Asked specifically what percentage of Australia’s emissions the red meat sector accounts for, Mr Strong said the figure was around 54 million tonnes per year, or about 10 percent of emissions.
That represented a 57 percent reduction on the 2005 inventory figure, he said.
“It is also the commitment the industry has made to make the investments over the next 10 years to progressively improve that target on the same basis of what we have done since 2005,” he said.
Mr Strong emphasised that the CN2030 strategy does not focus on achieving emissions through buying offsets, but through productivity and efficiency improvements, through practices such as emissions avoidance, which includes supplementing livestock feed with additives such as Red Asparagopsis seaweed which trials show can reduce methane emissions from livestock, and practices that enable carbon sequestration in soils and vegetation.
“Our focus is very much on how do we actually operate current red meat businesses and how do we actually make them more efficient, more profitable than and get them on the path to carbon neutrality,” Mr Strong said.
Gerard Rennick, a Liberal National Party Senator from Queensland, homed in on the question of what the CN2030 strategy will mean for trees on properties.
“I’m from mulga country in western Queensland, so the planting trees option hasn’t done us any favours because we can no longer push mulga and there’s 60 or 70 million hectares of the stuff out there that could have been used in a drought, but because of the obsession with we have got to save the trees, you know we couldn’t use that,” he said, asking Mr Strong to elaborate on the CN2030 strategy for trees.
Mr Strong said CN2030 does not contain a specific strategy for planting trees.
“We are looking at how we manage land use, which might include type of pastures, how we actually manage the total land area that we have, it might actually include planting vegetation, which might include trees, but we don’t have a position around planting trees,” he said.
“And one of the most important pieces is that it has got to be practical, it has got to be long term and it has got to be impactful.”
Mr Strong said a key focus was looking at how producers can manage existing vegetation to increase or maintain productivity and still have the same or more positive impact on the environment.
Senator Rennick then asked how far developed seaweed or algae feed additives for livestock were.
“Late stage R&D, early stage commercialisation, still work to be done,” Mr Strong said.
“It was tested as a feedlot supplement and in the repeated trials it had a significant reduction of methane and slightly positive impact on production.
“So those sorts of things give us hope and confidence that there are investments we can make which will provide benefit and get us further along the path.”
Greens Senator Janet Rice wanted to know if MLA has been examining the implications for the red meat industry of different levels of projected global heating, such as a 4 degree warming level by 2100 which has been predicted by some models.
“Modelling those types of results and information isn’t part of our expertise and there’s quite a number of other organisations that do that, so we look to them for guidance in those areas,” Mr Strong replied.
“When we’ve looked at the impact on the environment of a whole range of different things the choice that was made a couple of years ago to focus in this area (CN2030) in the next 10 years, because we saw that as being one where we could manage and control the things that were inputs and we were quite confident or ambitious or hopeful about the ability to have an impact on that in the period of time.
“… it has been well received by the community and our consumers, but also it allows us to put a significant base under the sustainability of our industry and certainly as we get down that path and we obviously will take into consideration other things around climate as well, but at the moment our focus is very much on CN30 program of work.”
At the close of the session Senator Gerard Rennick said that if the beef industry is able to reduce its carbon emissions by 50 million tonnes in the next 10 years, “then I want to see a 50 million tonne reduction in the cities as well”.
It is quite comforting to see other people recognising this redicilous CN 30 for what it is . This totally unachievable proposition dreamt up out of nowhere is without any scientific backing whatsoever is very misleading . MLA should front up admit it is not possible and allow it to die a natural death GB
I have mentioned at rural forums a few times that on cross- ruminant species herd estimates going back some 20,000 years it would appear that the total ruminant biomass has remained much the same – it is just that we have wiped or decimated some ruminant species in favour of those that we have domesticated. What is now being measured in the US and China is the methane levels over grain crops and rice paddies. As cereal production requires synthetic NKP and, as high levels of nitrogen are inimical to the methanotrophs found in the top 30cms of soil, this makes cereal agriculture a nett contributor to methane and, of course, nitrous oxide which has nearly 300 times the GHG effect of CO2 while methane is 30 times more potent as a heat trapping gas. Methanotrophs are Nature’s feed-back loop as methane is their food fuel – and have been part of life on Earth since the primordial ‘swamp’ days. Rice, grown in a swamp, and now, with productivity being boosted by applies NKP is, potentially, the worst culprit for agriculturally produced CH4 (methane) so why is there no mention about this from the livestock Peak Industry bodies???
So where was all the widespread consultation done with producers before this announcement?
It will be like the animal welfare module of LPA, which going by the number of starved to death cattle I saw during the drought was a total failure. Or the biosecurity forms that had check boxes ticked, then filed away never to see the light of day again. It will be ignored by most producers and they will carry on producing the best beef in the world despite the paperwork.
I don’t remember being asked by MLA if I supported the 2030 target and I haven’t even been told by Jason Strong how my business will go about achieving this ambitious target. Hopefully the letter is in the mail. It is well and good to make these outlandish claims but fronting up with the plan to achieve this seems to be missing.
I listened to the lefty green Lee Sailes interview the Prime Minister last night on 7.30 Report. The Prime Minister has my full support for his common sense approach to the issue of emissions targets maybe MLA could learn a thing or two from the PM.
When I receive the letter from MLA advising me of how I am going to achieve the 2030 target I will then make a decision as to what our business will do. We operate an environmentally sustainable operation that is always looking to be emission efficient but the truth be known the whole climate change debate seems to be a bit of a farce. We have the Greens gone now , the new leader has forgotten about the raging bush fires of recent times and has now taken a different approach to policy, one which he hopes to be the farmers friend. Why, because the greens were copping a huge amount of flack due to the forest management policies they pushed for and contributed to the disaster.
So Jason Strong I am waiting in anticipation.
More taxpayers money wasted by Labor/Green politicians in yet another high-jacking of a Senate estimates hearing, in order that they can continue to push their blinkered agenda.
As a respondent Jason Strong did not live up to his name.
When will climate activists wake up to the fact that to achieve any change their efforts have to be directed internationally towards the major emitters, and not towards Australians who put food on dinner tables?
Note, the 57% reduction in emissions was largely due to cessation of land clearing not due to management nor breeding.
To quote the CSIRO report commissioned by MLA:
“In 2005, GHG emissions attributable to the Australian red meat industry totalled 124.1 Mt CO2e. This is equivalent to approximately 21% of national GHG emissions. In 2015, emissions from the red meat sector decreased by 45% to 68.6 million Mt CO2e and 13% of national emissions. The decrease in emissions between 2005 and 2015 was largely due to a decrease in emissions from forest land converted to grassland (deforestation).”
The CSIRO report is available here https://www.mla.com.au/research-and-development/search-rd-reports/final-report-details/Greenhouse-gas-mitigation-potential-of-the-Australian-red-meat-production-and-processing-sectors/3726.
In addition, I urge caution in red seaweed being a silver bullet for 24 million+ grass-fed cattle: 1/ no supply chain for seaweed; 2/ the animals need it every day so how do they get it? Drones?; 3/ what is the business model? How much will it cost to buy then how do I feed it to my animals?