Farmers' Chief Wary of Calls for United Nations Global Sustainability Standards for Livestock

Farmers' Chief Wary of Calls for United Nations Global Sustainability Standards for Livestock
Cows and their calves graze in a pasture on a farm near Cremona, Alta., June 26, 2019. (The Canadian Press/Jeff McIntosh)

Tony Mahar, CEO of the National Farmers Federation, has urged any implementation of the United Nation's sustainability standards in Australia to be more nuanced and not a blanket approach.

His comments come as organic standards groups push for the global body to create a sustainability standard for livestock producers.

Marg Will, an organic standards lobbyist from Brisbane, Australia, this week told a conference in Europe that there was an "urgent" need for the standards.

"The need for standards around sustainability is great, is urgent," Will told AAP.

She is critical of Australia's current system, which she says is simply "green-washing" because it allows emitters in the industry to buy carbon credits to offset their emissions while still producing greenhouse gases (GHGs).

"What we're trying to do by introducing standards is avoid green-washing," Will said.

Livestock Producers Urge Caution on a Global Regulatory Approach

Mahar told The Epoch Times in an email that they would be very cautious about the creation and implementation of a global set of standards around the livestock industry given the different global environments that each livestock sector exists within.

"Australia’s farming systems—particularly for grazing—are radically different to those of, say, Europe or North America," Maher said. "Our approach to reducing emissions and caring for our land will be unique because our environment is unique."

He noted that the red meat industry has set its sights on carbon neutrality by 2030, and had already lowered the emissions from that sector down 53 percent on 2005 levels and taken steps to develop the Australian Agriculture Sustainability Framework—a world-first partnership between industry and government."

He said that it was important that governments note that reducing emissions in the sector was not a regulatory challenge but rather a technological challenge, with the Australian meat industry already pursuing ambitious targets "to maintain our reputation as a leading global supplier of clean and green produce."

"What we need is continued focus on the technology breakthroughs that will enable us to drive emissions lower while continuing to supply the world with food and fibre," Maher said.

An example of this technology is the partnership of Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA) with the government's chief scientific body, the CSIRO, and James Cook University to discover, research and develop a livestock supplement called Futurefeed that employs seaweed as a nutritional supplement to reduce GHG emissions by up to 80 percent.

Methane Busting Seaweed Supplement Rolls into Production

The discovery that seaweed may be the industry's GHG saviour came about after a Canadian farmer noticed cattle in his paddock bounded by the sea were more productive than his other cattle. He discovered the cattle grew faster, were healthier and easier to manage and then provided it to the rest of his cattle.
A farmer and his young son look at cattle at the weekly livestock sale near the town of Carcoar in central-west New South Wales, Australia, on Feb. 10, 2015. (Peter Parks/AFP/Getty Images)
A farmer and his young son look at cattle at the weekly livestock sale near the town of Carcoar in central-west New South Wales, Australia, on Feb. 10, 2015. (Peter Parks/AFP/Getty Images)
Reaching out to a scientist friend in Australia, Dr. Rob Kinley, it was soon discovered that the kelp was lowering the GHGs from the cattle that were eating the seaweed, which then led Australian scientists to discover the Asparagopsis kelp, in small doses, reduces GHG in animals, according to Futurefeed.
MLA Managing Director Jason Strong told the online food industry journal in July, 2022 that avoiding emissions was a necessary part of the red meat industry achieving a carbon neutral status by 2030.

“MLA is continuing to work on a range of tools and technologies for producers to cost-effectively reduce emissions and increase productivity by demonstrating environmental stewardship credentials to customers, consumers and the community,” Strong said.

“We are proud to be working alongside FutureFeed in rolling out Asparagopsis to a range of commercial partners. Asparagopsis is one of many exciting tools the industry can embrace in working towards our goal of carbon neutrality at the end of the decade.”

Global Livestock Industry Says Fine to Handle Emissions

A 2021 study published in Nature Food (pdf) based on data from 2010 has been utilised to argue that the global livestock industry generates around 57 percent of global GHGs.

The study asserts that the world's most prominent emitting regions are South America (14 percent of total food-related emissions), South and South East Asia (nine percent) with China (eight percent), Brazil (six percent), the United States (five percent) and India (four percent) being the highest emitters in the livestock industry.

This is in contrast to the North American Meat Institute (NAMI) who note on their website that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), considers all of the country's agriculture sector contribute just nine percent of the country's GHGs and of that, the livestock industry represents just over four percent of the country's GHGs.

"GHG emission data often continue to overestimate the regional impact, particularly in developed nations such as the United States," NAMI said. "The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says agriculture contributes nine percent of America’s GHGs while livestock production accounts for 4.2 percent of GHGs. By contrast, transportation accounts for 27 percent and energy production is 31 percent."

The Institute also notes that most of the calculations around sustainability and GHG emissions determine the impact of livestock production using meat as the sole output. This, they note, is misleading because most livestock have multiple purposes that they are used for other than meat. These extra products which when removed from landfill has been estimated to have around "the same effect on GHG emissions as removing over 12.25 million cars from the road."

"For pigs, a third of the animal is used for other purposes. Different products produced from these animals include leather and other textiles, pet food, animal feed, soap, personal care products, industrial lubricants, biodiesel fuel and medicines," NAMI said.

The organisation also notes that when examining carbon emissions, researchers often neglect to account for the nutrient density of the food, as noted by a 2014 research study published in Comparative Analysis.

"Every single food that we eat (from apples to jerky, steak to zucchini) comes at an environmental cost, and we have to balance that cost against its nutritional benefits," NAMI said.

"When we examine carbon emissions according to the nutrients provided by the food, we see a very different picture. Meat products provide 75 percent of the daily requirement of 15 key nutrients with average carbon emissions of 248 grams of CO₂ equivalent(g), whereas the equivalent amount of energy from vegetables provides 375 percent of the 15 recommended daily requirements but with average carbon emissions of 787 g."

Victoria Kelly-Clark is an Australian based reporter who focuses on national politics and the geopolitical environment in the Asia-pacific region, the Middle East and Central Asia.