Meaty Matters

Last month, our RALF Belle headed to Perth for the Meaty Matters: Cows and Climate – understanding the true value of livestock in climate-positive agriculture forum. There she joined around 200 livestock producers, scientists, and interested stakeholders who were present and ready to examine the role of livestock amid a changing climate.

The event aimed at engaging livestock producers, scientists and members of the public to increase understanding of the value of livestock in climate-positive agriculture.

The day kicked off with an address from the Honourable Allanah Mactiernan, who spoke about the ‘meat-free’ ideology, the emergence of this and what it means for the livestock industry.

For those of you wondering, Ruminant animals have diverse microbial populations in their stomachs that employ anaerobic fermentation to digest feed. Methane is belched into the atmosphere as a by-product of this digestive process. This gut, or enteric methane, primarily from cattle, sheep, and goats, contributes to the methane released into the earth’s atmosphere daily. Consequently, this is driving demands from sections of the community for significant reductions in the consumption of red meat to reduce the number of ruminants and the amount of methane they release.

MacTiernan also questioned if we were accurately measuring methane emissions accumulation. She briefly discussed how we could reduce our methane production in the red meat industry—focusing on alternative mitigation approaches rather than reducing red meat consumption and ruminant numbers to reduce methane emissions from ruminants. Actions include genetic selection, native pastures, manure management, feed additives, and supplements like Asparagopsis (info on this here).

Among the keynote speakers was Dr Terry McCosker. Dr McCosker is an internationally-acclaimed teacher who made several world-first discoveries in bull fertility, ruminant nutrition and pasture ecology in the eighties.

Professor Graham Gardner of Murdoch University brought about a global perspective with his role on the steering committee of the Dublin Declaration, an international collaboration of scientists whose research contributes to balanced solutions for the future of animal agriculture. More information on that is here. Professor Gardner indicated that although sometimes suggested, ruminants are not the cause of global warming (come on, we’ve all heard about the big, bad, farting cows, right?). Stating that ruminant numbers have remained roughly steady for millions of years through the populations of bison, megafauna etc., in history. He also reassured everyone that cattle were not a concern regarding food competition showing that 75% of the global agricultural areas are permanent grasslands and cannot be used as arable land. For ruminants, only 5% of global feed intake competes with humans, so are the big bad cows actually as big and as bad as they are made out to be? 

Other key speakers included animal scientist Professor Phil Vercoe of The University of Western Australia and Dr Brad Ridoutt from CSIRO.

A panel discussion was held at the end of the day, where methane science and consumer sentiments towards livestock and agriculture were dissected.

The day aimed to build an understanding of the best steps to ensure sustainable livestock farming for the future. A couple of the key takeaways from this were;

  • It’s not the cow; it’s the how. Red meat is not the issue; how we raise, farm and maintain the animal is where we can improve and achieve maximum impact.
  • What is good for the land and ruminants is good for us too. Ultimately the fat of the land becomes fat in our food too. Certain fats start and maintain inflammation and other fats end it.
  • Ruminants are converting vast renewable resources from rangeland, pasture, and crop residues or other by-products into food edible for humans. For ruminants, only 5% of global feed intake competes with human intake.
  • The methane emissions of ruminants due to their digestive processes are only one source of greenhouse gases from “livestock,” and greenhouse gases are only one part of the extensive footprint of society.

If you’re interested in knowing more, the day was recorded, and the presentations are set to be released soon. Click here to view.

This project is supported by the Australian Government’s Regional Landcare Partnerships initiative of the National Landcare Program. 

Annabelle Garratt – Regional Agriculture Landcare Facilitator

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