31 August 2012
NZ beef carbon footprint study highlights productivity gains
The New Zealand beef industry has completed a study1 examining the full carbon footprint of New Zealand beef, and it
highlights significant productivity gains.
Beef + Lamb New Zealand General Manager Market Access, Ben O’Brien says the study was driven by the industry’s
sustainability focus and the dual challenges posed by an increasing global population and pressure on the planet’s
“We see this study as making a valuable contribution to the global livestock production story and we will be
contributing the results of this study to the FAO work programme on environmental performance of livestock food chains.”
O’Brien said the New Zealand sheep and beef industry had made enormous progress in reducing its emissions during the
last 20 years, mainly by producing more meat from less pasture.
“Less pasture consumed means less emissions. Compared to 1990, New Zealand sheep and beef farms now produce slightly
more meat by weight, but from fewer animals.”
Researchers estimate that this productivity improvement has reduced the carbon footprint of New Zealand beef and lamb by
about 17% over that period, he said.
The study was funded by Beef + Lamb New Zealand, the Meat Industry Association, Ballance Agri-Nutrients and Landcorp,
and the Ministry for Primary Industries greenhouse gas footprinting strategy. Much of the data for analysis was supplied
by Beef + Lamb New Zealand.
The study has created a benchmark for understanding where greenhouse gas emissions are occurring across the supply
chain, including production, processing, transportation and consumption, says O’Brien.
“Differences in the footprint are largely related to the value of the types of cuts that are exported to different
markets and the method of allocating emissions on an economic basis.
“As has been reported in a number of other beef carbon footprint studies the majority (over 90%) of emissions occur on
O’Brien says the footprint varies depending on the type of farm ( 7.2 to 14.3 kg CO2e per kg live-weight), the sex and
age of animals (7.3kg young bull to 16.0kg breeding cows), and whether or not calves from the dairy industry are used.
Overall the weighted New Zealand average GHG emissions from beef animals from sheep & beef farms2 was 10.5 kg CO2e per kg live-weight.
The emissions arising from transport to market are extremely low. Oceanic shipping is very efficient and this study
shows it contributes just 1.1 - 2.7% of the total carbon footprint.
Dr Stewart Ledgard, the lead author of the report, said that until there was a globally-agreed methodology for
‘footprinting’, it was hard to assess how New Zealand’s footprint compares to others.
“We’re not aware of overseas studies with a comparable scope or level of detail in the methodology”3.
The New Zealand pastoral industry has also invested in strategic, large-scale research aimed mostly at livestock
emissions through the Pastoral Greenhouse Gas Research Consortium, the Global Research Alliance and the New Zealand
Agricultural Greenhouse Gas Research Centre.
1 A Greenhouse Gas Footprint Study for Exported New Zealand Beef by M. Lieffering, S.F. Ledgard, M. Boyes and R. Kemp.
2 In New Zealand most farms that farm cattle also farm sheep and vice versa.
3 For this study, AgResearch used the Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) approach which is consistent with the PAS2050
published standard for greenhouse gas footprinting. On-farm emissions analysis undertaken for this study is consistent
with New Zealand’s GHG accounting methodology as submitted under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate
Change (UNFCCC), and is based on the average New Zealand sheep and beef farm.