New research showing New Zealand lamb shipped to shops halfway around the world can be as environmentally friendly as the local product has been widely published in the UK media.
The widely circulated Farmers Weekly says New Zealand farmers have “landed a blow” against so-called “food miles,” noting the study’s main conclusion that a typical 100g serving of New Zealand lamb exported 11,000 miles to Europe has a carbon footprint equivalent to 1.9kg of CO2.
Some 80% of greenhouse gas emissions occur on-farm, the study says. Meat processing contributes 3% with a further 12% coming from the consumer phase, including cooking. Transport accounted for just 5% of emissions.
The paddock-to-plate AgResearch study set out to find out where greenhouse gas emissions occur across the supply chain. The research was funded by the Meat Industry Association, Ballance Agri-Nutrients and Landcorp, along with the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry.
”Transport distance influences only a small fraction of the total footprint,” the report says. “Focusing solely on this small fraction is an inappropriate and potentially misleading means of assessing the overall impact of emissions from a product.”
The New Zealand sheep industry has already reduced its emissions during the past 20 years, mainly by producing more meat from less pasture.
Compared with 1990, New Zealand sheep farms now produce slightly more lamb meat by weight, but from a 43% smaller national flock. Researchers estimate this productivity improvement has reduced the carbon footprint of New Zealand lamb by more than 20% over that period.
Meat Industry Association chairman Bill Falconer says the study, which is pioneering in its scope and level of detail in the methodology, notes key areas where efforts for improvement should be focused.
“The biggest opportunity to reduce the lamb footprint is on-farm, and there is already considerable investment into research in that area. But we are all playing our part – right across the supply chain.”
He says until there is a globally agreed methodology for “footprinting,” it is hard to assess how New Zealand’s footprint compares to others.
“However, in the area of on-farm emissions, which are common to all sheep producing nations, we are confident New Zealand’s low-input and efficient farming, along with our high proportion of renewable energy and temperate climate, mean New Zealand lamb will compare very favourably in terms of its emissions performance. And it is likely that the small proportion of the footprint contributed by transport and processing costs – 8% together – will also compare well.”
What's being done
• Strategic, large-scale research aimed mostly at livestock emissions such as that by the Pas toral Greenhouse Gas Research Consortium, the Global Research Alliance and the New Zealand Agricultural Greenhouse Gas
• Meat processing initiatives through improved waste-water treatment systems, energy
efficiency programmes and exploration of alter native fuels for boilers, including woodchips and waste
• Meat exporters working with individual
shipping lines to identify ways to reduce the oceanic shipping component of the footprint (5%)
• Educating the consumer on energy-efficient purchasing, cooking and storage methods.
The full report
This article first appeared in NBR Food Industry Weekly.
Thu, 15 Apr 2010