Comparing the carbon footprint of different beef systems

In summer 2012, The National Trust published its “What’s your beef?” report as a contribution to the debate on the carbon impact of livestock production.

The report was designed to sense-check the carbon accounting that appeared to discredit extensive systems as inefficient – according to calculated kg liveweight gain /kg CO2e. As the vast majority of Trust farms are based on extensive livestock production on land unsuitable for arable cultivation, we sought to check how a selection of our beef farms might compare. Independent consultants compiled the carbon scores from farm visits using standard PAS 2050 methodologies and a desktop comparison of overseas systems, including Brazilian Cerrado and US feedlot. Results from our farms were in line with published results elsewhere.

However, when standard carbon sequestration figures were included in the analysis, the carbon balance shifted to favour extensive systems despite their having lower emissions efficiency. Essentially, extensive beef systems have the potential to approach carbon neutrality despite taking longer to reach slaughter than more intensive cereal based systems. We recognise that rates of carbon accumulation and loss are uncertain and we are keen to see routine soil organic carbon testing to check the trends in real situations over time.


Theme: animal husbandry
Published: 22nd January 2013
Author: Rob Macklin