NZ Beef - Actions to Reduce GHG Emissions

Following on from the New Zealand Beef Greenhouse Gas Footprint Study, the authors outline future actions and recommendations for the industry. The study confirmed several areas where the New Zealand red meat sector can continue to make incremental improvements in its emissions performance. There are also longer-term strategic research initiatives underway, which are intended to produce more significant, step-wise improvements in emissions performance.
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Overall Findings

The total GHG footprint was calculated at 2.2kg CO2-equivalents for a 100g portion of beef. Broken into segments, this equates to 90.3% for the on-farm stage, 2.1% for meat processing, 4.2% for transportation, and 3.3% for the consumption phase.

This overall breakdown of the GHG footprint and the dominance of the on-farm component is broadly consistent with the recently completed New Zealand Lamb GHG Footprint Study and other international studies of products derived from farmed, ruminant livestock.

Key components of the beef GHG footprint are as follows:

On Farm

On farm, the largest contributors to emissions are natural processes associated with cattle consuming pasture. These processes include methane from rumen digestion of pasture (via belching, 62% of total footprint) and nitrous oxide from animal excreta on soil (17% of total footprint).

While on-farm emissions are the most significant contributor to the GHG footprint, they also present the most difficult challenge in terms of improvements. However, it is possible to reduce the on-farm portion of the footprint through management practices that increase the conversion of pasture to meat. This, in turn, reduces the proportion of pasture consumed to “maintain” the herd.

Meat Processing

Meat processing comprises only 2.1% of the beef GHG footprint, but the study identifies opportunities for meat processors to reduce this contribution further, particularly in relation to energy used for processing and wastewater management. Meat processors are addressing these challenges through improved wastewater treatment systems, energy efficiency programmes and exploration of alternative fuels for boilers.


Oceanic shipping of meat in refrigerated containers from New Zealand to overseas markets (based on the relative global distribution), made up nearly 2.6% of the total GHG footprint. Oceanic shipping represents 61% of the overall commercial transportation and storage contribution to the total footprint. While this reinforces that food transportation is not a key determinant of the overall footprint, meat exporters are working with shipping lines to reduce this contribution.


The consumption-related components account for approximately 3.3% of the total of the GHG footprint (increasing to 14.5% if travel to and from the restaurant is included). This highlights that the consumer also plays a role in reducing beef’s GHG footprint.

Further Steps

Action being undertaken to reduce GHGs include:

Continuous Improvement

Across the beef supply chain, farmers, processors and shippers will continue to prioritise efficiency and improved environmental performance.

Strategic Emissions Reduction Initiatives

New Zealand’s meat industry and government are investing heavily to identify innovations capable of significantly reducing pastoral farming GHG emissions. These strategic efforts are focused on research and development to create mitigation technologies. They include the minimisation of methane from enteric fermentation, through breeding or vaccines, and the reduction of nitrous oxide emissions, through soil additives and nitrogen management practices.

Global Coordination of Emissions Measurement

The New Zealand industry and government are working to coordinate global efforts to understand agricultural GHG emissions. One aspect of this is to share the methodology applied in this and other GHG footprinting studies, thereby allowing agricultural producers around the world to compare and discuss emissions mitigation opportunities on a like-for-like basis.

The New Zealand meat industry’s participants plan to continue working together to mitigate emissions throughout the supply chain and to measure overall progress. Mitigation efforts will also be encouraged by the implementation of the New Zealand Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS), which puts a price on GHG emissions.

Industry participants will continue to meet and discuss emissions reduction opportunities. The industry plans to repeat this study in the future, to measure its progress in reducing the GHG footprint of exported New Zealand beef.

Further Reading

You can view the full report by clicking here.

October 2012

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