Australia the 2nd Largest Meat Consumers – Carbon Footprint Challenge

Australia 2nd Largest Meat Consumers: Carbon Footprint Challenge

The food you eat directly relates to your ‘carbon footprint’.

Your carbon footprint is defined by the World Health Organization (WHO) as:

“The impact your activities have on the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions produced – in tonnes – caused by the burning of fossil fuels”.

Food – Sources of emission contributing to household carbon footprint

  • Food – 10-30 per cent
  • Production – 68 per cent
  • Transportation – 5 per cent

Carbon Footprint Factsheet, Centre for Sustainable Systems University of Michigan, September 2020.

Restaurant chefs, however, are increasingly aware and actively involved in ‘sustainable’ sourcing – including foraging – of food ingredients. Particularly here in Australia, where interest in local, ‘indigenous’ food has exploded in popularity, in recent years.

Looking specifically at Australia…

Amount food contributes to its total carbon emissions:

  • Food – 15-20 per cent
  • Agriculture – 13 per cent
  • Transportation (inc. processing & storage) – 2-7 per cent

Deakin University, May 2020

Australian meat consumption has jumped annually

The environmental ‘footprint’ of cattle continues to be flagged up. Beef and lamb, in particular, produce much higher greenhouse gas emissions – almost 80 per cent-  than chicken, pork, or plant-based alternatives.

There are three key contributing factors to the carbon footprint caused by beef production – animal feed, land conversion, and methane emitted by cattle. Methane emission is estimated to be responsible for 23 – to 40 per cent of global warming.

So how does this square with a recent report that Australian meat consumption has jumped each year from 93kg to nearly 95kg per person – or – everyone eating a 250 gram steak, every single day!

According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), “Australians are the second biggest, per capita, consumers of meat in the world”.

Tucking into large juicy steak to satisfy the Australian appetite has also skyrocketed during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Australian Beef Sustainability Framework reports that over a 12 week period, beef sales increased by 20 per cent, and doubled again – by 39 per cent – at butcher stores.

Red meat industry target to be ‘carbon neutral’ by 2030

The issue of sustainability – and meat eating – is an integral part of reducing carbon emissions. The good news is, since 2005, the red meat industry says it has achieved a “57 per cent carbon reduction”. They have also set a target to be ‘carbon neutral’ – no net release of greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere – by 2030. Their declared aim is to:

  • Reduce methane emission from cattle
  • Improve landscape management
  • Increase carbon storage in soil, trees and shrubs
  • Improve soil carbon storage methods.

Eating less meat (and dairy), and instead eating more plants and ‘native’ food, is increasingly urged as a way to significantly reduce our carbon footprint.

Sustainable options such as the increasingly popular 

The restaurant industry and its chefs are certainly increasingly contributing to the “growing conversation around food sustainability”. Every chef we interview here at Life on The Pass expresses their passion and commitment to good quality, locally produced food sources and supporting Australian farmers.

But it seems the ordinary meat-eating Australian consumer may not be necessarily joining in as much as it would be hoped.

For some Australians, cutting back on traditional eating of meat, such as beef and lamb, and switching to a plant food based diet can be a big ask, of course.

Carbon footprint table for fresh food

In 2017, researchers at Australia’s RMIT University  published the first comprehensive carbon footprint table for fresh food. Their report provided more than 1,700 “potential values for global warming” from 168 varieties of fresh produce, including vegetables, fruit, dairy products, meat, chicken and fish.

In the “hierarchy of greenhouse gas emissions” across food categories, it was found:

  • Lowest impact –  grains, fruit and vegetables, nuts and pulses.
  • Medium impact – chicken and pork, and some fish categories.
  • Highest impact – beef and lamb.

The table clearly shows by comparison the amounts different foods contribute 1 kg of greenhouse gas emissions.

Looking only at various meat types:

  • Chicken – 270 grams contribute 1 kg of greenhouse gas emissions
  • Rabbit – 212 grams
  • Australian pork – 131 grams
  • Australian lamb – 57 grams
  • Australian beef – 44 grams

By comparison:

  • Apples (20 Med.) – 3.5 kg contribute 1 kg of greenhouse gas emissions
  • Oats – 2.6 kg
  • Lentils – 1 kg
  • Salmon – 290 grams
  • Eggs (5 Small) – 290 grams

Mediterranean-style diet and indigenous food

Research has shown that it is “viable and easy” for Australians to adopt a more Mediterranean-style diet rich in vegetables, fruit, legumes, nuts, seeds, wholegrains and extra virgin olive oil.

The growing trend for indigenous food can also include protein-packed insects such as, mealworms and crickets as alternatives to help reduce our food consumption carbon footprint.

The UN say that global greenhouse gas emissions need to fall by 7.6 per cent each year by 2030, which could prevent up to 3 million annual premature deaths by the end of the century.

Clearly, in reducing our meat eating carbon footprint, the stakes are high. Perhaps, if the ‘steaks were low’ in our regular consumption..?