What's in the news right now about environmentally sound, socially responsible and economically viable beef value chain.


Executive Director's Message

I have included several articles in the first section this week relating to "short term climate pollutants”. This is a not very inspirational term referring to gases such as methane (CH4) which, though potent in terms of warming potential, persist for a relatively short time in the atmosphere.

Why, you may ask? It seems like a detail, something that should be a footnote to sustainability discussions and not a significant point to dwell on. However, ruminant production systems have come under a lot of criticism for their greenhouse gas emissions in recent years, and this has been picked up upon by everyone opposed to livestock production, whether they understand what they are talking about or not.

Since the early days of the IPCC, a methodology has been used to calculate the impact of emissions, based on equivalence to CO2. As methane is considered a potent GHG, its CO2 equivalence was calculated to reflect that. However, this does not account for the fact that CH4 degrades relatively quickly in the atmosphere, whereas CO2 persists. This has led to an exaggeration of the impact of enteric emissions.

The recent Oxford Martin et al journal article proposes a methodology that better reflects the role of such "short term climate pollutants". None of this is really new – I quoted a paper published in 2013 in this article two years ago, but I hope that the new Oxford Martin article will be taken more seriously in the light of Paris climate negotiations, and that the CH4 question will be addressed more appropriately.

My thanks to Donald Moore of the Global Dairy Platform for sharing this with me.

Thank you.

Ruaraidh Petre
Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef
Executive Director

Short term Climate Pollutants
New Methane Emissions Metric Proposed for Climate Change Policy
Oxford Martin School | June 4, 2018
A new paper published today has outlined a better way to think about how methane and other gases contribute to greenhouse gas emissions budgets. This is an important step towards evaluating the warming from methane emissions when developing strategies to achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement.

"We don't actually need to give up eating meat to stabilise global temperatures," says Professor Myles Allen who led the study (meat production is a major source of methane). "We just need to stop increasing our collective meat consumption. But we do need to give up dumping CO2 into the atmosphere. Every tonne of CO2 emitted is equivalent to a permanent increase in the methane emission rate. Climate policies could be designed to reflect this."

"Under current policies, industries that produce methane are managed as though that methane has a permanently worsening effect on the climate," says Professor Frame. "But this is not the case. Implementing a policy that better reflects the actual impact of different pollutants on global temperatures would give agriculture a fair and reasonable way to manage their emissions and reduce their impact on the environment."

A New Way To Assess 'Global Warming Potential' of Short–lived Pollutants
Dr. Michelle Cain, Carbon Brief | June 7, 2018
Dr Michelle Cain in a science and policy research associate on the Oxford Martin School's programme on climate pollutants at the University of Oxford. "In a new paper published in npj Climate and Atmospheric Science, my co–authors and I address one of the stocktake's key stumbling blocks – the treatment of all greenhouse gases as "CO2–equivalent", using a metric known as "global warming potential" (GWP). This misrepresents the impact of short–lived climate pollutants, such as methane, on future warming.

We show that modifying the use of GWP, so that it accounts for the differences between short– and long–lived gases, can better link emissions to warming. This means that the true impact of an emission pathway on global temperature can be easily assessed. For countries with high methane emissions – due to, say, agriculture – this can make a huge difference to how their progress in emission reductions is judged."

Why Methane Should Be Treated Differently Compared to Long–lived Greenhouse Gases
David Frame and Adrian Henry Macey, The Conversation | June 12, 2018
In climate policy, we routinely encounter the idea of "CO–equivalence" between different sorts of gases, and many people treat it as accepted and unproblematic. Yet researchers have debated for decades about the adequacy of this approach. To summarise a long train of scientific papers and opinion pieces, there is no perfect or universal way to compare the effects of greenhouse gases with very different lifetimes.

This point was made in the first major climate report produced by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) way back in 1990. Those early discussions were loaded with caveats: global warming potentials (GWP), which underpin the traditional practice of CO–equivalence, were introduced as "a simple approach … to illustrate the difficulties inherent in the concept".

The problem with developing a concept is that people might use it. Worse, they might use it and ignore all the caveats that attended its development. This is, more or less, what happened with GWPs as used to create CO₂–equivalence. The science caveats were there, and suggestions for alternatives or improvements have continued to appear in the literature. But policymakers needed something (or thought they did), and the international climate negotiations community grasped the first option that became available, although this has not been without challenges from some countries.

And on a related but different point, here is Alan Lauder's latest blog post in which he emphasises the importance of Carbon Flows in defining sustainable beef. In case you have not followed his blog, you can find a full list of posts here or here. Alan is one of the authors of the 2013 paper I quoted above in my introduction.
Opinion: "Sustainable Beef" Can't Be Defined Without Discussing Carbon Flows

Alan Lauder, BEEF Central | June 22, 2018
For the past 12 months Alan Lauder, former grazier and author of the book "Carbon Grazing – The Missing Link", has written a series of weekly blogs the Soils for Life website, discussing carbon flows in a different way for graziers to look at the landscape and understand how it functions. Published here is the final blog post in his series which ties together his years of research on carbon flows and why they are central to the sustainable beef debate.

The most over–used and misused word in the English language is "sustainable". Everybody uses it, but often there is little agreement on what it means. The term is like a magnet to nebulous feel good words.

Beef production being sustainable has two aspects, producers have to remain profitable and the environment has to remain healthy as a result of beef production, including water quality.

To achieve both aspects of sustainability, the "resilience" of the paddock has to be maintained. The only way paddock resilience can be maintained in both the short–term and long–term, is to ensure that sufficient carbon keeps flowing through the paddock. The natural world can't "function" without carbon flows.

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Beef Producers are Cashing Cheques in New Pilot Project  
Jessica Giles, HighRiverOnline | June 20, 2018
Beef producers are putting some extra money in their pockets with a new pilot project.

The one–year Canadian Beef Sustainable Acceleration Pilot Project is under way, aimed at creating a certified sustainable beef supply chain.

The Verified Beef Production Plus program is working with Cargill and the Beef InfoXchange System to deliver the pilot where direct financial credits flow back to cow–calf and feedlot operations on a per head basis for their qualifying cattle.

National Business Manager of Verified Beef Production Plus, Virgil Lowe, said in the first quarter from October 2017 to the end of December, producers enrolled saw a return of $10 per qualified head, with an even more impressive second quarter. "From January to March 2018, the pilot paid a financial credit of $20.11 per head for qualifying cattle."

McDonald's Actions May Be The Impetus for the Last Plastic Straws
Thom Forbes, MediaPost Communications | June 18, 2018
McDonald's will replace plastic straws with paper ones in its 1,361 restaurants in the United Kingdom and Ireland starting this September and will also begin testing alternatives in the U.S., France, Sweden, Norway and Australia to what is reportedly the fifth most common form of trash picked up off coastlines worldwide.

"McDonald's is committed to using our scale for good and working to find sustainable solutions for plastic straws globally," states Francesca DeBiase, McDonald's EVP, global supply chain and sustainability.

Holistic Management Can Help Keep US from 'Desertification'  
John Dobberstein, No–Till Farmer | June 9, 2018
No–tillers can heal grasslands, improve their soils and farm more profitably by increasing livestock numbers and re–examining their management context, says Allan Savory.

The co–founder of the Savory Institute believes desertification is caused by "reductionist management" that works against the web of complexity that includes social, cultural, environmental, and economic factors.

The biggest problem isn't with tropical rain forests with guaranteed moisture, where it's nearly impossible to have large areas of bare ground. It's in climates with intermittent humidity and dryness in which desertification in the U.S. and world occurs.

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Priorities Decided at Global Agenda for Sustainable Livestock Meeting  
The Pig Site | June 14, 2018
The global livestock sector set out priorities that will help optimise livestock's social, economic and health benefits while balancing its environmental impact at this year's annual Global Agenda for Sustainable Livestock (GASL) meeting.

The five–day flagship event, which convenes organisations from across the livestock sector, set out four key areas where livestock's potential could be more effectively leveraged to support global development. They are Food and Nutrition Security, Livelihoods and Economic Growth, Health and Animal Welfare and Climate and Natural Resources.

Canada Sees Multiple Pathways To Sustainable Beef  
Aerin Einstein–Curtis, FeedNavigator | June 8, 2018
Technology, third–party audits, multiple stakeholders and financial incentive are all elements playing a role in developing a sustainable beef industry in Canada.

Beef InfoXchange System (BIXS) is in the process of bringing together industry members to establish an industry–wide tracking system, the company said.

The goal of the project is to design a system that collates animal production information and provides needed information without identifying individuals to different members within the supply chain as a way of building trust and answering the questions asked by consumers.

Ranchers Use Blockchain In Wyo. Beef Production
Chrissy Suttles, News Letter Journal, Wyoming News Exchange | June 8, 2018
Wyoming startup company BeefChain is at the intersection of traditional cattle ranching and the state's economic diversification efforts.

The company is using blockchain technology – a buzzword during this year's legislative session – to give producers and consumers the opportunity to track beef products farm to table.

The company, started five months ago, has already tagged roughly 1,500 cattle on five ranches throughout the state using radio frequency ID tags that are now linked to a digital supply–chain ledger.

Why Food Nostalgia Won't Make Us More Sustainable  
Sara Place Ph.D., GreenBiz | June 20, 2018
Our challenge is to nourish a global population of increasing affluence without degrading the earth's resources or compromising the success of future generations. Key to this effort is doing more with less, or improving the productivity of agriculture.

Over the past several decades, both plant and animal agriculture in the United States have made gains in improving outputs, such as beef production or corn yields, per animal and per acre. For beef, improvements in the productivity of crops used as feeds for cattle, such as corn, have reduced the land requirements to produce beef.

Additionally, we're able to produce 9 percent more beef with 29 percent fewer cattle due to improvements in cattle genetics, cattle nutrition and health, and the use of technologies from herd management software to vaccines. Productivity improvements in plant and animal agriculture work synergistically to reduce input requirements for producing food. As a result, U.S. beef's carbon footprint is 10 to 50 times lower than beef produced in other regions of the world.

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