Comment: Good progress in GHG mitigation and meat research

NZAGRC director Dr Harry Clark opens the 2017 Agricultural Greenhouse Gas Mitigation Conference.

Two recent events have given a snapshot of the New Zealand red meat sector’s progress towards mitigation of pastoral greenhouse gas emissions and our meat research. It’s looking good.

The red meat sector’s policy makers and environmentalists had the chance to update on the latest progress made in New Zealand’s thrust to mitigate pastoral greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions at the NZ Agricultural Greenhouse Gas Mitigation Conference, in Palmerston North on 28 March. Supported by the Pastoral Greenhouse Gas Research Consortium (PGgRC) and organised by the NZ Agricultural Greenhouse Gas Research Centre  (NZAGRC), this biennial event attracted well over 157 delegates, from the fields of policy, industry, farmers and science, to hear from 11 speakers.

Immense progress has been made globally since last December’s climate change summit in Paris and later at COP22 in Marrakech, Morrocco, delegates heard from New Zealand’s Climate Change Ambassador Marc Sinclair, with over 130 countries now having ratified the agreement – more and earlier than expected.

The community is still unsure how recent US developments will affect that progress internationally, but China seems to be stepping up to the mark with New Zealand and China agreeing a Climate Change Action Plan last week.

“Agriculture is part of the solution to feed the masses,” said NZAGRC director Harry Clark, “but it has the challenge of doing that without increasing greenhouse gas emissions.”

There is no doubt that livestock do make a substantial contribution (19 percent) to global GHG emissions, NZ Agricultural NZAGRC deputy director Dr Andy Reisinger said via video, and New Zealand needs to play its part. Mitigating emissions will be key for all sectors, but for global agriculture working out how to increase food production, while mitigating those emissions, will be key to achieving the Paris agreement.  Interest in agriculture mitigation is growing internationally – which increases the need for science-based solutions and guidance for implementation, he said. The international community is focused on finding an internationally agreed method of measuring the emissions.

Later in the programme, AgResearch’s Dr Stewart Ledgard spoke about Life Cycle Analysis (LCA), which is being revisited as a method of making international comparisons between different products. LCA is a tool to account for total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, including from energy use and the production of all inputs that go into farm systems, such as fertilisers and feeds. It is product focused and runs from a product’s ‘cradle to grave’ including extraction of raw materials used, through farm and processing stages, to transport, consumer and waste stages. LCA has enabled the carbon footprints of New Zealand milk, beef and lamb to be compared to other products internationally and been found to have a pretty good profile, he showed.

The international debate has moved way past food miles and environmental food labelling to include other environmental impacts, noted Ledgard. He pointed to the EU, for example, which has been piloting Product Environmental Footprinting (PEF), covering 15 environmental impacts, including human health, freshwater, acidification, eutrophication and resource depeletion. This is being reviewed and will be finalised by the end of this year. LCA will be able to make a contribution to this and other systems such as the Livestock Environmental Assessment and Performance (LEAP) programme which is also aiming to harmonise systems internationally [More on this topic later.]

Other speakers included the red meat sector’s perspective from Beef + Lamb NZ Ltd chief executive Sam McIvor and a dairy industry view from Fonterra’s manager, group environment, Francesca Eggleton, both showing progress has been made by the sectors.

Highlights also included Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment Dr Jan Wright who discussed understanding biological GHG and Motu Research’s Dr Suzi Kerr, who called for gradual land-use change and said she would like to see support for emerging industries that might make better environmental use of pasture land.

Progress continues to be made in New Zealand development of world-leading technology to mitigate methane via both inhibitors and vaccine (AgResearch principal scientist Dr Peter Janssen) and also tools to lower nitrous oxide emissions (Agresearch principal scientist Dr Cecile de Klein), while it has been found New Zealand’s soils can store carbon at a great depth than first thought, but that finding ways to stop them losing carbon needs to be a first priority (University of Waikato’s Professor Louis Schipper).

PGgRC head Mark Aspin summarised the day’s learnings at the close of the day pointing to “massive progress on basic and fundamental research” in the methane and nitrous oxide emissions mitigation and soil carbon programmes, together with urgent calls for farmers to plant trees to mitigate carbon dioxide emissions.

“This is a transition, not an overnight thing and you’ve got to take people with you,” he noted.

Papers from the day and further information is available here.

Meat research developments

The packed out 2017 AgResearch Meat Industry Workshop in Hamilton (15 March) certainly resonated with its theme ‘Bringing it all together’.

Bringing 24 speakers together into one programme, split over three sessions looking at research progress in food safety and provenance, markets and quality and processing and value, it was an excellent time-efficient way to update on the latest meat research news around the $8.5 billion red meat industry and beyond – and there’s a lot going on. Topics ranged from STEC control and food safety management, several programmes focused on extracting more value from protein, learning about traceability systems, detecting carcase contamination, the long-term effects of diet in the domestic cat, through to getting a glimpse into the Argentinian and Chilean meat industries and much more. It also presented an opportunity for the 115 delegates to network with processing industry colleagues and researchers and then for a smaller number to attend the Meat Industry Association’s smaller research and development workshop the next day.

There will be more to come on MeatExportNZ later this week from that event, but one surprising change I observed was that, as a woman, I wasn’t among the small minority, this year. The percentage of women both speaking at and attending the friendly and thought-provoking event has increased markedly.

The workshop’s a must attend for those in the processing or research part of the industry, so make sure you’re on the 2018 invitation only event guest list.

Attending both these events shows that the red meat sector has a wealth of expertise at hand and is using it to reposition the sector for the future.

 

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