“The food miles argument has now largely been debunked worldwide as a simplistic and incomplete story when looking at the carbon footprint,” Mr Carter said about the Agresearch study which found that of the 1.9kgs CO2e produced per 100 gram serving of sheep meat, food miles contributed only 5%.
Mr Carter quite correctly argues it is simplistic and incomplete to only consider the carbon emissions created by food miles when considering the global warming impact of eating a NZ lamb chop when overseas. This is because it ignores all the other factors and variables involved in production and processing of the meat and the relative emissions from different countries and different farming systems. .
However, 57 percent of the carbon footprint, as outlined in Agresearch’s study, is created by the methane. In order for Agresearch to get that figure they have had to take a simplistic and incomplete approach to the complete methane cycle as it relates to sheep meat farming. Their study is based on the premise that CO2 is removed from the atmosphere to grow the grass the sheep eats. They continue to include in their calculations the process where the carbon from the CO2 is returned to the atmosphere in the form of CO2 and CH4. The CO2 emissions are balanced against the CO2 that was removed. The CH4 emissions are multiplied by 25, being its global warming potential, and accounts for 1.08kg of the 1.9 kg each 100 gram serving of sheep meat is supposed to have been responsible for.
But they stop their analysis at this point which is why it is simplistic and incomplete. They ignore the process that continues after this where the CH4 oxidises back to CO2. The result of this is that the net effect of sheep meat production on methane levels in the atmosphere is not quantified. Yet this is what the world really needs to know. The only figure that is important for the global warmers, is how much more methane is added to the atmosphere every time a 100 gram serving of sheep meat is served in the UK or anywhere for that matter. The answer to this is of course zero and that is the result Agresearch would have got if their study had not been simplistic and incomplete and had taken into account the complete story with regard to methane.
Agresearch also took a simplistic and incomplete approach when they failed to account for the carbon that is sequestered in the soil.
In the study there were also a number of decisions Agresearch made about how to determine the lifecycle emissions of carbon and all of them were to the disadvantage of sheep farmers.
Deciding to include emissions of theoretical CO2 equivalents instead of limiting it to real emissions that actually resulted in an increase of greenhouse gas in the atmosphere; increased the footprint by 75%
By taking the simplistic and incomplete approach of ignoring the oxidisation of methane to CO2, inflates the carbon footprint by 57%.
Choosing a global warming potential of 25 instead of the 21 that is used in the NZ Inventory inflates the carbon footprint by 9%. This could be considered reasonable because 25 is more representative of recent research than the GWP of 21 which is used for Kyoto obligations and is therefore the figure in the NZ Inventory. However in the study Agresearch set great store on adhering to the NZ Inventory policy when it chose not to include soil carbon sequestration in its analysis, despite all evidence showing significant amounts of carbon are sequestered in soil by pastoral farming. If adhering to NZ Inventory policy was as important to them as they claim and they were being consistent they would have chosen the GWP of 21 which is NZ Inventory policy and not the more disadvantageous 25 they chose to use.
Not taking into account soil carbon sequestered inflates the carbon footprint immeasurably. A sheep farm holds approximately 50 tonnes more carbon in a hectare of land compared to exotic forestry. By not converting to forestry and staying in sheep production approximately 2.5 tonnes of carbon are not released into the atmosphere every year. That is about 250kg CO2e per sheep which is over 2 times the amount of methane it produces in CO2 equivalents. On that basis the sheep is a carbon sink and so is the lamb chop when served on a plate in the UK
Choosing a time horizon for the GWP’s of 100 years instead of 500 years as used by other studies, inflates the footprint by 39%. The IPCC and the UNFCC advise that when choosing which time horizon to use a value judgement has to be made. 100 years is too short when used for a short lived gas like methane and for a gas like N2O which resides in the atmosphere for longer than 100 years why on earth would you choose 100 years. The nutters who signed Kyoto chose 100 years and NZ is paying the price for their stupidity, Agresearch did not need to choose it and should not have. They needed to heed the UN and make a value judgement. Any arguments they may use about International standards are nonsense.
Choosing economic allocation instead of mass based allocation increased the footprint by 34%. When deciding the carbon footprint of any sheep product you have to decide how much of the carbon liability goes to each product, eg wool, meat, blood and bone, tallow etc. Agreserach decided to allocate it on an economic basis. They could have chosen a mass based allocation as other studies around the world have done but this would have advantaged the sheep farmer by lowering the carbon footprint of sheep meat and disadvantaged others by increasing the carbon footprint of non meat products such as tallow. This would be a blow to the bio fuel industry and we can’t have that. No one system is more right than the other and there are advantages and disadvantages which ever system you choose. Anyone who makes that choice is going to show their bias when they do. Agresearch has shown its bias by choosing the economic analysis. I suppose at the end of the day the question is, whose decision should it be? The answer surely is that it should be up to the NZ sheep farmer and no one else.
And so it is with all the options, farmers should have had a say in what methodology choices were made. It remains to be seen whether similar studies done around the world will use similar simplistic and incomplete analysis tools and choose the most disadvantageous of methodology options to produce over inflated carbon footprints. I suppose the one advantage is that by grossly over inflating the carbon footprint and dumping most of it on the farmer, the food miles component becomes very small.
95 grams of CO2e per 100 grams of sheep meat for food miles sounds a lot less when you say its only 5 % of the total 1.9kgs CO2e produced. The fact that most of the 1.9 kgs are bullshit emissions of bullshit CO2e’s, and the 95 grams for food miles is real, is forgotten.
Bill Falconer Chairman of the Meat Industry Association, which helped fund the study, hailed the study as an excellent piece of science. What nonsense! Farmers are being hung out by their processing industry which like Fonterra is happy because they have each produced studies that dump most of the emissions on the farmer.
What needs to happen now is a study to determine how much additional real CH4, CO2 and N2O is added to the atmosphere per 100 gram serving of sheep meat and per litre of milk produced. That is the only study the world needs and if the meat industry wont pay for it, and Fonterra wont pay for it and the Government wont pay for it Meat and Wool wont pay for it and Dairy NZ wont pay for it why on earth don’t farmers pay for it themselves. Per farmer it wouldn’t be more than a few bucks and it will save them thousands per year. Pastural Farming Climate Research is still committed to doing that, that is what we were formed to do. We just need the few bucks from every farmer to do it. Please spread the word about what we are trying to do.
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