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Every Argentinian on average eats 56kg of beef a year, but in the first quarter of this year this dropped by nearly 6% compared to 2015. Instead, they are switching to cheaper chicken and pork. Apparently, inflation at 40% has priced beef out for many ordinary citizens. This is becoming serious since for the last sixty years beef consumption in Argentina has actually averaged 78kg.
On a smaller scale, something similar is going on in Paraguay where locals are now, apparently, cutting into the Amazon forest to find ways to get cheap beef for the local community; and even in beef besotted Brazil pork and chicken consumption is supposedly growing as the price of beef rises in a suffering economy,
The timing is unfortunate as we are just digesting new research from the University of Edinburgh, Scotland's Rural College (SRUC) and Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation (Embrapa) which says that reducing beef production in the Brazilian Cerrado could actually increase global greenhouse gas emissions. The findings were published recently in the journal Nature Climate Change.
The study does not argue against the charge applied to methane from cattle, which I hope to see more objectively challenged at some stage, but it highlights instead the value of long term grassland as good at the sequestration of carbon. Apparently, Brazilian grassland is particularly good compared to much of the rest of the world as the grass has extra long roots which take the carbon further into the ground and fixes it more strongly.
The current problem is that a lot of the grassland is degraded, and the research argues that if Brazil would actually increase beef production on the grassland this would encourage farmers to improve the pasture. Arguments from around the world frequently link proper livestock grazing with high quality grassland. As long as there is not overgrazing, the animals stomping around pushes the carbon down to the roots from where it gets moved deep into the earth.
It is important that the expansion of the livestock and beef production in Brazil must be completely disconnected from any Amazon forest destruction, and must remain on the grassland.
Hides and skins may be the non-determinant product from the meat and dairy industry but what we eat, what it costs and the environmental opinions held by consumers definitely impact what hides and skins are available and their quality. We must continue to take a close interest.
4th May 2016
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