A global focus on cutting agricultural greenhouse gas emissions is driving a shift in the red meat sector where the market - not regulators - will likely initiate the change.
According to a new industry report, the trend towards climate-friendly meat also offers a real opportunity for meat industry players.
As community demand for better environmental outcomes gains momentum, opportunities existed for red meat supply chain stakeholders to implement programs aimed at cutting greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) while retaining consumer trust, and promoting social acceptance, said Rabobank's Unlocking climate-friendly meat report.
But measuring the red meat supply chain's GHG emissions still remained one of the most challenging aspects confronting the industry.
Rabobank senior animal protein analyst Angus Gidley-Baird said tailored production programs with certain specifications in dedicated supply chains - similar to current certified grassfed and organic programs - would let stakeholders to produce lower-emission red meat without necessarily undertaking onerous emission measurements.
Specified supply chains
"Instead of having to measure on-farm emissions, livestock owners could participate in a dedicated supply chain with a program that uses a technology or process that has demonstrated emission benefits," he said.
Some technologies, such as using methane-reducing feed supplements, implementation of emission-reducing farming practices or refined genetics, were already being commercially applied.
It was only a matter of time before these innovations were integrated into dedicated supply chains, Mr Gidley-Baird said.
However, the market-based approach Rabobank expected to shift the industry towards reduced GHG emissions required incentives to help stimulate change.
Mr Gidley-Baird said price premiums for producer, were an obvious incentive, however, he believed price premiums for low-GHG emission beef would be limited.
"While sustainability ranks highly among a growing number of consumers, they don't necessarily want to pay higher prices for the benefit," he said.
"Surveys conducted by Meat & Livestock Australia show that, when it comes to the actual purchase, the most common drivers for protein choice are freshness, value, and ease of preparation."
Despite the potential lack of price premium, Mr Gidley-Baird said significant value could still be captured in the low emissions red meat supply chain, including opportunities for productivity gains, generation of carbon credits, plus access to markets and capital.
A challenge for the red meat supply chain lay in bringing the two ends of the supply chain together.
"In the red meat supply chain, the bulk of the emissions occur at the production end of the supply chain, yet it is society - in this case consumers - that represent one of the key proponents for emissions reductions," he said.
Communicating emission reductions through the supply chain was essential to connect the two ends of the supply chain, and required either the use of a trusted program or brand, or the measurement and reporting of emissions.
However measuring livestock GHG emissions in a broad scale approach, he said, was perhaps the greatest challenge the industry faced.
The diversity of operations and production systems, the interactivity with the landscape, the whole of life-cycle consideration, lack of data and harmonisation of methodologies all complicated the measurement process.
"Without the ability to easily, accurately and consistently measure emissions, it makes it difficult for broad based policy instruments to be applied, which is another reason why we believe a market-based approach is more likely to lead change," Mr Gidley-Baird said.
While a number of proactive governments around the world had begun regulating to reduce emissions in the red meat industry, he said, it would actually be industry players, using dedicated supply chains in a market-based approach, who would emerge as the key drivers of change.
Although some governments had set a 2030 target for change, Mr Gidley-Baird believed this market-based approach would generate results faster.
It was entirely possible supply chains could implement changes in the next two to three years.
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The story Green shoots sprout in climate-friendly meat opportunities first appeared on Farm Online.