well, firstly, you’re probably wondering what low carbon beef is?

farmers and those involved in food production, or the agricultural supply chain are probably sick, sore, and tired of hearing “agriculture is to blame for climate change”. and yes, farming and livestock production does indeed contribute to the climate change crisis.

beef produces the most greenhouse gas emissions, which includes methane. lamb has the next highest environmental footprint, but 50% less than beef emissions. both of these animals are known as ruminants meaning they can utilise cellulose, the primary substance in plant cell walls that other species such as pigs, poultry and humans cannot. 

this is through their four stomachs, primarily the rumen stomach; in doing so, they emit methane, a much more potent greenhouse gas compared to others but much shorter lived within the atmosphere. 

however, when we think about greenhouse gases, we group the gases as one – carbon dioxide equivalents, C02e.

according to the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB), greenhouse gas emissions are lower from UK produced beef, partly because the “landscape and climate is perfect for growing grass, with grasslands covering 65% of our farmland and 50% of total land”. 

this means cows don’t rely as much on grain and other feed, which can have a high carbon footprint. cows can utilise this vast amount of grass grown within the UK and turn it into nutritious food. However, that is not the only benefit associated with cows eating the grass.

in layman’s terms, grass grows through the process of photosynthesis – using the earth’s sunlight, water, soils, and carbon dioxide to produce oxygen and grow. 

the grass absorbs the carbon and stores it within the soils – Carbon Sequestration. however, if the grass were left untouched, it would reach a point of maturity and would not grow anymore, therefore would not sequester as much carbon. 

the continual grazing of the grass with cows and sheep encourages continual grass growth and the continual sequestration of carbon into the soils.

there are also much fewer food miles associated with rearing grass-fed cows compared to those raised and given imported or processed grains.

this is a very practical approach for NI in terms of beef production. we have the perfect climate for growing grass, but we cannot grow many other plants or crops for human consumption. Therefore, utilising the grass for livestock production is better than not using it at all, surely?

fewer food miles; less grain; grass-fed – all add up to potentially the world’s lowest carbon cows. this sounds good to me. but to accurately record an animal’s contribution to climate change, we must consider the good and the bad and give an overall net figure rather than just simply looking at emissions.

the accurate recording of the net effect of farming and agriculture on climate change will require an uptake in verification systems, on-farm technology, and smart tagging to give retailers and processors the confidence to make on-pack claims, and ultimately give consumers the confidence to vote with their wallets safe in the knowledge the claims being made are true.