Beef production and climate change
Red meat production is often negatively singled out in climate change discussions. In these discussions, it should be noted that there are large differences in greenhouse gas (GHG) intensity within and across production systems across the globe. Consideration should be given to the fact that these differences are often driven by complex factors out of the control of the individual beef farmer or country market. Canada is the 11th largest beef producer and 3rd largest exporter of high-quality beef in the world and as such, our industry has a strong commitment to the social, economic and environmental sustainability of beef production. Though there is still work to be done, this commitment has resulted in innovations that have proved highly successful in the reduction of our GHG footprint, and Canadian producers are world leaders in sustainability. It is imperative that these successes be shared with other production systems to achieve the same standard worldwide.
In Canada, Canadians can enjoy beef as a part of a nutritious diet, knowing that our production system is state of the art, while still focused on continuous improvement. Through strategic investment and focus, further reductions in GHG can be and are being made. These investments will also have positive impacts for Canada’s rural communities and the health of agricultural ecosystems that deliver public goods for all Canadians.
Fast Facts Regarding Beef Production and Climate Change
- The Canadian beef industry’s total GHG production is 23.38 MT, accounting for 2.4% of Canada's total. Canada’s total agriculture GHG production is 60 MT, accounting for 8% of Canada's total GHG footprint.
- Canadian beef has one of the lowest GHG footprints per unit of production in the world at 11.4 kg CO2 equivalent per kilogram of live weight, less than half of the world average.
- The greenhouse gas footprint of the beef industry is due mainly to the production of methane (over 70%), methane is a comparatively short-lived GHG and a natural by-product of feed digestion in the intestinal tract of ruminants such as cattle and bison.
- If valued at $15 CAD per tonne, carbon stored in prairie grasslands alone would be valued at $4.3 billion CAD and over $11 billion CAD has been lost in the Parkland region due to grassland conversion to cropland, industrial and urban development.
- It is estimated that GHG emissions could be cut by up to 20% through uptake of mitigation strategies and another 5% could be cut from reducing food waste by half.
- Between 1981 and 2011, the Canadian beef industry reduced its GHG footprint by 14% through advancements in technology and management that enabled industry to produce the same amount of beef in 2011 compared to 1981, all with 29% less breeding stock, 27% fewer slaughter cattle, and 24% less land.
- Canadian beef industry produces ~2% of the world’s beef and contributes an estimated $33 billion CDN to the Canadian economy.
- Beef production in Canada utilizes 21 million hectares of agriculture land of which 93% is pasture and forage land.
- Canadian grasslands, preserved through the efforts of ranchers, can store up to 200 tonnes of carbon per hectare. The cultivation of grasslands can lead to 30 - 35% loss of soil organic carbon.
Only 9% of all annual cropland in Canada is used to grow feed crops for cattle (barley, oats, corn, wheat).
The Canadian beef industry continually strives to be a global leader in sustainable beef production, and looks to be a partner in dually achieving Canada’s economic and environmental targets.
Through responsible stewardship of Canada’s natural resources, the Canadian beef industry will continue to contribute to the growth of the green economy in Canada.
The environmental footprint of the Canadian beef industry
This short video aims to address consumer misconceptions about how beef is raised and the impact of cattle production on the environment: https://youtu.be/JDSoZBmdudg
For more in-depth exploration of the topics covered in this video, please visit:
Environmental sustainability is not a final destination but a journey. The CCA encourages all producers to stay engaged and current with the latest beneficial management practices. The CCA recognizes that managing for herd health, marketing, accounting plus all the natural resources on a farm is not an easy task. The CCA works hard to help ensure there are appropriate collaborators in place to help producers manage the natural resource base. In addition to the links provided here, producers should contact their provincial associations for a complete list of regional programming available.
Farmland – Riparian Interface Stewardship Program: http://www.cattlemen.bc.ca/frisp.htm
Prairie Conservation Action Plan: http://www.pcap-sk.org/
Operation Grassland: http://www.grasslandcommunity.org/
Western Beef Development Centre: http://www.wbdc.sk.ca/index.htm
Click here to try out Holos, an Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada whole-farm modeling software program that estimates greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions based on information you enter for your farm or ranch. Consider what management practices will decrease GHG emissions to make your operation more energy efficient. Develop scenarios to estimate carbon storage or losses from planned land use changes and end up with a whole-farm GHG estimate.
Manure and nutrient management: http://www.beefresearch.ca/research-topic.cfm/manure-and-nutrient-management-7
Canadian Forage and Grasslands Association: http://www.canadianfga.ca/
Cows and Fish: (Alberta Riparian Habitat Management Society) http://www.cowsandfish.org/
Ducks Unlimited: http://www.ducks.ca/