Reducing beef production in Brazil would increase global greenhouse gas emissions

Redwood Comment
Published:  01 March, 2017
Mike Redwood

Did you notice that the Environment Ministry of the German Government has banned meat (and fish) from all its official events in the belief that it “must practice what it preaches” with regard to the environment? This is the danger of pressure groups, press, lobby groups and government jumping to conclusions without properly studying the facts.

You could expect everyone to avoid jumping to conclusions given the health catastrophe that has been created in Europe by government support of diesel cars through tax incentives and other subsidies since the early 1990s, only to discover that in the rush to reduce CO2 emissions we are prematurely killing our citizens through nitrous oxides (NOx) and particulates; and worsening a host of illnesses such as asthma, autism and dementia as well as all manner of respiratory problems.

A quick read of Graham Harvey’s book The Carbon Fields indicates that one good way to manage carbon is by keeping long term grassland in good condition since it sequesters huge quantities of carbon dioxide. According to Harvey if the UK returned to the mixed farming that it had in the 1930s that long term grassland would balance out not only CO2 from traffic but also any methane emissions from the cattle that are needed to help improve and maintain the quality of the grassland. Sound crazy? If so, it is only because we have been conditioned by a barrage of unbalanced arguments and have not stepped back to analyse the facts.

May I remind you that, according to research by The University of Edinburgh, Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC) and Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation (Embrapa), reducing beef production in the Brazilian Cerrado could actually increase global greenhouse gas emissions. The Research was published last year in the journal Nature Climate Change.

Lead author Rafael Silva, of the University of Edinburgh’s School of Mathematics, explains: “Much of Brazil’s grassland is in poor condition, leading to low beef productivity and high greenhouse gas emissions from cattle. However, increasing demand for meat provides an incentive for farmers to recover degraded pastures. This would boost the amount of carbon stored in the soil and increase cattle productivity. It would require less land for grazing and reduce deforestation, potentially lowering emissions.”

While grassland sequesters less CO2 than forests it remains exceptionally good at it and the long rooted Brazilian grassland is classed as outstanding in this regard.

And all that is before you examine the science behind the methane story, or the implications for food production, the limited options for the use of pasture land and the health implications of a meat free diet. Since the Internet makes it so easy for people to filter the news they receive - helped by the way Google and Facebook work - so they only get to read material that supports their preconceived opinions; informing and educating consumers, as well as brands, retailers and designers is a vital task for the leather industry.

Oh, and advising the many other parts of the German government on the proper science to support the Food Minister and many others in their objection to the Environment Minister's forcing “vegetarianism by the back door”.

Mike Redwood

1st March 2017

mike@internationalleathermaker.com

Follow Mike Redwood on twitter: @michaelredwood

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