Reducing Carbon Emissions in the Meat Chain

ANALYSIS - The latest chapter in the English Beef and Lamb Executive roadmap for the carbon footprint of beef and lamb production shows that a reduction in carbon emissions can be achieved along the supply chain from the farm through to the retailer.
calendar icon 1 February 2012
clock icon 4 minute read

While the majority of the greenhouse gas emissions come from the farm - about 90 per cent - there are reductions that can be achieved through the processing sector right through to the retailer.

The latest study, which was published this week expands on the previous two reports from EBLEX and enhances the findings in the lifecycle analyses seen in the roadmap projects - Change in the Air published in 2009 and Testing the Water published in December 2010.

The current report, Down to Earth, reinforces the findings of the Testing the Water report. In that report, the results based on data from 30 cattle and 30 sheep farms, showed that there was an average CO2 equivalent emissions level of 11.93kg for cattle and 11.95 kg for sheep per kilogram liveweight.

The latest chapter in the study looked at 131 English beef farms and 57 sheep farms. Across all the beef units the E-CO2 calculator showed an average 100 year Global Warming Potential (GWP100) of 12.65kg CO2 equivalent per kilogram liveweight.

For the sheep units the CO2 equivalent was 11.86kg CO2.

The findings were approximately the same as in the smaller previous study showing only a slight rise. However, the findings also showed a great disparity between the best farms with the lowest CO2 outputs and the worst.

For cattle the worst cases has outputs of 29.7 kg CO2 equivalent and the best were just 3.02 kg CO2 equivalent.


For sheep the gap was slightly narrower with 19.71kg CO2 equivalent at the top of the range and 6.43 at the lowest range.

The thrust of the report, however, shows that the fewer carbon emissions, the better the production on the farm and the higher the productivity and profit potential.

The better performing farms were achieving optimum daily liveweight gains and best finishing weight as early as possible.

The low carbon farms were also feeding good quality grass or a higher quality ration, with high available metabolisable energy (ME) where required as well as using co-products where suitable.

These farms were also achieving a high output per breeding unit.

However, the high carbon farms were achieving below average liveweight gain and lower weights at the time of slaughter.

They had a higher feed rate per kilogram of meat produced and a low output per breeding unit.

Cutting emissions on the farm and improving production methods will help to reduce the majority of the emissions in the supply chain for the production of meat, but further savings can be made by cutting waste of animal products in which the majority of the carbon cost is already embedded post farm gate.

In 2009, a study estimated that in the UK there was a total of 87,000 tonnes of avoidable waste in beef and lamb, including mixed meats and offal in the home alone.

Further savings can be made by better treatment of the product in processing and distribution, extending shelf life and better packaging.

The latest report has also drawn input from six major supermarket chains in the UK.

The six, Asda, Marks and Spencer, Sainsbury, Tesco, Morrisons and Waitrose, are all working with their producer suppliers to ensure improvements in the sustainable production of meat.

In the Report Dr Chris Brown, the head of ethical and sustainable sourcing at Asda said: "One major way they're doing this is to encourage the use of high sugar grasses by farmers in their Beeflink, DairyLink and LambLink producer groups.

"Asda is aiming to reduce the CO2 from its farmers' cows and sheep and cut emissions by 186,000 tonnes."

Marks and Spencer is working with the Scottish Agricultural College to establish their own sustainability roadmap for beef and sheep.

"This provides farmers with a series of practical tools to identify areas of their farm business that could be improved," Steve McLean, the agricultural manager at Marks and Spencer wrote in the report.

Sainsbury's started its own carbon footprint initiative in 2007 and Tesco said that its commitment to monitoring the carbon footprint of its products was contained in the company's corporate responsibility strategy.

Morrisons is working on a plan for carbon emissions reduction on its own farm in Scotland, benchmarking projects in other areas and it hopes to share the results of its study next year. Waitrose has started a commercial trial to evaluate using high EBV rams in the flocks of 40 farmers.

While most of the input from the retailers has been to investigate carbon emission reductions with their farmer suppliers, there is also a great deal that can be achieved by reducing spoilage in-store, reducing packaging, reducing waste in the processor and using more of the carcase while increasing shelf life of products and educating consumers in reducing waste.


Further Reading

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