In June 2019 the Herald was doing some editorialising on the end of meat. Impossible Burgers had recently made an entry and it was looking like there were going to be more plant based imitation meat appearing on the market soon. They said, “While in New Zealand beef and lamb consumption has fallen, 38 per cent and 45 per cent respectively in the past 10 years, the trend doesn’t spell doom for our $10 billion red meat industry.”
That is a considerable drop, some of which is compensated for by New Zealanders now eating more chicken. No wonder Beef and Lamb has been panicking recently.
The editorial then went on to get excited about the FAO’s prediction that meat consumption will rise globally and that the meat trade is going to increase 20% rise between 2017 and 2027. Ah exports to developing countries, that looks promising.
Oh yes, it’s China. They are taking more of our red meat, much more. But then the Herald editorial goes on to say that this is breathing space for us and “If anything the rise of global demand adds to the challenge to produce meat more sustainably, with less impact on the environment.”
Well I’ve been boning up on what Dr Joseph Poore has been saying and it just doesn’t tally. And what Dr Robert Goodland, formerly of the World Bank where he led the environmental assessment team for 23 years, said. It doesn’t tally with that either. They are both sure there is no such thing as sustainable beef production.
Dr Poore of Oxford University recently published a study of 38,700 commercially viable farms in 119 countries over 40 agricultural products. This represented about 90% of global protein and calorie consumption worldwide. He gathered data from thousands of scientists and his lecture took an hour and a half to listen to.
Climate change is only one of the environmental problems of food systems. The others were freshwater use, water pollution (eutrophication) and air pollution (acidification). Because they were studying emissions farm by farm, he found they varied hugely, even within the same region. For beef, one farm can produce 1000% more emissions of another and use 5000% more land. That is one beef farm can produce 11 times more emissions than another. He was staggered by the variability.
And here is the kicker: “Even the lowest impact beef farms are producing six times more greenhouse gases and using 36 times as much land for growing a fixed weight of protein as farms growing beans and pulses.” His conclusion: “Eating plant based protein and milk delivers more environmental benefits than trying to purchase sustainably produced meat and dairy.”
The Guardian of course gives a great run down of his research findings – “Avoiding meat and dairy is the Single Biggest Way to Reduce your Impact on Earth” (31 May 2018) But they omit his big recommendation: That there be mandatory environmental labelling of food products. He says that nowadays with satellites able to give good data on crop areas, crop identity and crop yields together with farm inspectors looking at fertiliser, crop residues etc, each farmer can provide information to next in food chain. Four possibilities for data on labels – emissions, water scarcity, pesticide toxicity and impact on biodiversity, thought the first two are easier than the second two.