What will an ETS do for Australia’s Environment?

blue gum plantation w_vic nov_06AN historic piece of legislation, The Carbon Pollution Reduction Bill, currently rests on the Senate table which, if passed, will have a huge impact on Australia’s economic and social future.  The legislation will next be considered on August 13th.   If passed what will this mean for the Australian environment?

It is generally agreed that the legislation is intended to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases including carbon dioxide and methane.  However, given the big global polluters including China have no intensions of signing up to such a scheme, it is also generally agreed that an Australian emissions trading scheme will have no significant impact on global emissions or global temperatures. 

But in terms of economics how big will the impact be and what will the flow on effect be in terms of Australian industries and as a consequence the Australian environment.

Very large tracts of Australia support a cattle industry.  The government intends to include agriculture in the scheme down-the-track and Senator Barnaby Joyce, Leader of the Nationals in the Senate, claims that taxing methane emissions from cattle will effectively make beef too expensive.  He has claimed a prime cut roast will end up costing upwards of A$100.

Many would argue that the end of the cattle industry in Australia would be a good thing for the environment.   Indeed Ross Garnaut, a key advisor to the government on climate change, suggested in his final report on climate change that the nation’s farmers should switch to kangaroo and this would have multiple environmental benefits additional to reducing emissions.   But instead of switching to kangaroos, it is perhaps more likely that beef producers in moderate rainfall zones will plant trees to defray their costs.  This is what a reader of this weblog, Luke Walker, has suggested and furthermore he claims that trees in large numbers will impact significantly on catchment hydrology resulting in reduced water yields.

Another industry likely to be affected by the proposed legislation is mining.   While mining has arguably a less diffuse impact on the immediate landscape than either agriculture or forestry it never-the-less impacts.   There is currently a battle between farmers and miners on the Liverpool Plains of northern central NSW as farmers worry about the impact of proposed new coal mines in particularly on their aquifers.      

In short, is an ETS likely to be beneficial for Australia’s natural environment, not because it will reduce global emissions of carbon dioxide, but because it will result in the closure of many Australian primary industries and extractive industries?


The picture is of a young blue gum plantation in western Victoria taken by Jennifer Marohasy on a cold day in November 2006.

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42 Responses to What will an ETS do for Australia’s Environment?

  1. janama August 1, 2009 at 11:21 am #

    These people, like Ross Garnaut, who keep on advocating we eat kangaroo haven’t looked into the subject.

    1. The actual return of edible kangaroo fillets, i.e the type we purchase in shops today, accounts for only 10% of the animal, the remaining 70% of the meat has until today been shipped off to Russia as we have no use for it. (Russia has just closed down the importation of aussie roo meat) On the other hand we eat most of the carcass of sheep and cattle.

    2. Recent studies have found sheep actually survive drought better than roos.

    3. A kangaroo produces one offspring which is only edible after it’s reached 1.5 years old during which time it must be with it’s mother whereas we eat sheep after 6 months snd separate them from their herd after a few weeks so we can fatten them.

    4. Sheep can be farmed – kangaroos can not despite many attempts.

    5. Sheep and kangaroos eat different grass and fodder so they don’t compete with each other as is often thought.

  2. davidc August 1, 2009 at 12:32 pm #

    I don’t believe that the economic costs can be calculated, but it seems clear to me that a “carbon” market will lead to additional economic instability. People talk as though they know what the market price will be, but of course they don’t. It will be determined by all sorts of unknowable factors, the weather for example. Presumably a warmer winter or a cooler summer means that there will be carbon credits that no-one wants (assuming there are enough availble for when there is a hot summer or cold winter). Since carbon credits have no intrinsic worth the market value for actual producers is zero. With current accounting rules (for listed companies at least) carbon credits need to be valued at market, in this scenario $0. For listed companies at least, these large and sudden changes in asset values can have dramatic effects on share prices. For any company this kind of change is likely to trigger lending covenants, with the most benign consequence a big increase in interest rates (for a worse case see the examples of property developers who have failed recently). This is the extreme case and probably wouldn’t happen because at a certain (low) price carbon credits would interest speculators, who would buy in a cool summer, sell in a cold winter etc. In a cold winter or warm summer the value of a carbon credit would increase dramatically, as for companies such as energy producers they would be essential for increased production. So over the cycle the value of credits would shift from worthless to essential. The working of the market would depend on the behaviour of speculators (as well as the weather). They might be greedy enough to withold credits to keep actual production below demand the drive up prices and the value of credits. No doubt big users of carbon credits would take to the speculation game as well, but prices such as electricity prices would then depend on which speculators got things right.

    Supporters of carbon trading will object that it’s just like any other market and will settle to an “equilibrium” of sorts. But I think the key point is that the carbon credits have no intrinsic worth. Not many markets are like that. Tulip mania in 17th century Holland?

  3. Christopher Game August 1, 2009 at 2:04 pm #

    Surely the effect of the ETS, if they are silly enough to go ahead with it, would be to damage the environment in Australia by making the nation poor and short of cash to finance environmental protection and enhancement. It would be a mistake to say that close-down of Australian primary industries, farming and mining, would be beneficial for the environment.

  4. spangled drongo August 1, 2009 at 3:14 pm #

    Good ecology always depends on a good economy in this real world and countries that are wealthier generally pollute less because of tighter regs brought about by the economic ability of those countries to afford that regulatory discipline.
    Until we come up with a cheaper source of acceptable energy this agenda will impoverish us and if we cease to be able to afford this discipline, the ecology will suffer no matter how good our intentions are.
    Our priorities will change.

  5. sod August 1, 2009 at 5:42 pm #

    Senator Barnaby Joyce, Leader of the Nationals in the Senate, claims that taxing methane emissions from cattle will effectively make beef too expensive. He has claimed a prime cut roast will end up costing upwards of A$100.

    so he made up a number? and four “sceptics” replied so far, without a single sceptical look at that number?

    and jennifer simply posted it as well?

    so how much of a price increase is he talking about? 500%? does that really sound likely?

  6. janama August 1, 2009 at 6:22 pm #

    Yes sod you are right – no body questioned the number and the number is probably an exaggeration – it’s all the bureaucracy and the added inferences that really matter and this ETS has then all, quietly waiting in the wings.

  7. Tim Curtin August 1, 2009 at 6:24 pm #

    Sod: Garnaut reported (p.545) an increase of nearly 25% in the ratio of the permit costs (@$40 per t CO2) to value of production of beef cattle just in regard to their enteric emissions; this left out the mark-up effect at every stage of the move from station to supermarket, and all the extra charges of an ETS on both the grazier, through higher fertilizer prices and fuel prices, and at each next stage of the transfer from station to your table. It used to be called cost-push inflation.

    I suspect Sen Joyce is in the right ball park.

  8. Luke August 1, 2009 at 6:29 pm #

    The Farm Insitute has done detailed costing on the agricultural sector.

    e.g. http://www.australianpork.com.au/pages/images/Mick%20Keogh-%20Pork%20and%20ETS%20Oct%2008.ppt

  9. jennifer August 1, 2009 at 7:32 pm #

    Interesting information at the link – much thanks Luke.

    And is there a figure for the percentage of Australia currently grazed?

    And just filing this here, from the link:

    “ETS will present a bigger challenge than climate change in the short to medium term, and will reduce agricultural competitiveness.

    Livestock industries face a particular challenge if made responsible for the cost of ‘measured’ emissions.

    Forestry abatement presents a significant opportunity, depending on policy settings.

    R & D investment and targeting higher-value markets will be the key to continued profitability.”

  10. jennifer August 1, 2009 at 7:36 pm #

    Christopher et al.
    A nation can be rich without any significant natural resources eg. Singapore.
    Australia has had it easy first riding on the sheep’s back, and more recently as a quarry. Perhaps the brave new world is where we are forced to develop other industries without touching our significant natural resources?

  11. Johnathan Wilkes August 1, 2009 at 8:44 pm #


    “A nation can be rich without any significant natural resources eg. Singapore”

    Only as long as the nations buying the goods produced by Singapore are prosperous and willing to buy the goods produced by Singapore.

    On an other thread someone, maybe A Bartlett mentioned why agriculture shouldn’t be excluded from ETS,
    well, because we can live without technology and electricity and all the benefits they bring but we cannot survive without food!

    There is crude saying in Europe, if the farmer doesn’t “sh..t” the city folk don’t eat!

    I suppose I could have put it in polite terms and say, without farmers there is no food, but somehow it escapes many that food comes from the farms.

    Until the supermarkets suddenly go empty, today’s city people will not realise this.
    When they do, it will be too late.

    You in Australia are the lucky ones who never experienced the shortages caused by wars.

    When a gold ring worth $2000 today will only buy a loaf of bread, it will be too late to think how did you get it so wrong.

  12. spangled drongo August 1, 2009 at 9:09 pm #

    I asked this on the Barnaby Joyce blog. Any ideas anyone?

    Does anyone know whether the CO2e emissions of any food producing domestic animal is more or less than the pasture it consumed would produce during its lifetime?

    One would think that it must be less than the amount of CO2 required to produce the pasture.

    If it is around the same amount [or less] can someone tell me why this should be taxed?

    After all, pasture and pasture eaters have always been a very large part of the natural scene.

  13. Graeme Bird August 1, 2009 at 10:19 pm #

    “It is generally agreed that the legislation is intended to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases including carbon dioxide and methane. However, given the big global polluters including China have no intensions of signing up to such a scheme, it is also generally agreed that an Australian emissions trading scheme will have no significant impact on global emissions or global temperatures. ”

    Bearing in mind that CO2 is not pollution and is good for the environment. A view totally uncontested by scientific evidence.

    Reductions in CO2 output will hurt the environment. Even if only by an imperceptible amount. Worse environmental damage may be done if the resulting impoverishment leads us to fail to improve our environment as much as we otherwise would.

  14. sod August 1, 2009 at 10:19 pm #

    I suspect Sen Joyce is in the right ball park.

    Tim, you always are in the wrong ball park. so the fact that you agree with him is a rather good hint, that he is completely wrong.

    all the trading schemes so far include special conditions for industries that have a high CO2 output and little options of reducing it. the idea of the trading schemes, is to reduce UNNECESSARY WASTE of CO2.

    Does anyone know whether the CO2e emissions of any food producing domestic animal is more or less than the pasture it consumed would produce during its lifetime?

    the CO2 emission of the pasture is close to ZERO. the grass grows in spring, taking up CO2 and decays over winter, giving the majority of it back. (some part goes into soil as well..)

    the main problem with cattle is methane. the cows belch it, and it is a stronger greenhouse gas than CO2. you got confused perhaps, because the effect of the methane is also measured in CO2 “equivalent” units.

    another problem with cattle is land use change. if you replace a wood (contains a lot of CO2) with pasture (contains much less CO2), you have a net emission of CO2.

    After all, pasture and pasture eaters have always been a very large part of the natural scene.

    cattle populations are currently growing.

  15. spangled drongo August 1, 2009 at 10:47 pm #

    sod, thanks for that. I agree with you about the process but has it been accurately quantified?
    Also, in recent years in Australia open grasslands are being retimbered at a considerable rate, not the other way round and most of the world’s wild herds of grazers have declined.

  16. Luke August 1, 2009 at 11:44 pm #


    Summary statistics on land use 2001/2002


    Grazing native vegetation 54.56% Australian land area

    Grazing modified pastures 2.98%, grazed irrigated pastures 0.15%

    Although perhaps one should caution that much of the cereal belts can also be optionally grazed.

    Anyway a total here of 57.69%.

    A good map of landuse here http://adl.brs.gov.au/mapserv/landuse/index.cfm?fa=app.mapping&tab=mapping – the legend tab will explain the colours

    American readers will note large area of central and western Australia is too arid for grazing.

    Jen – the agricultural sector’s major issue is with methane produced from ruminant digestion of cellulose (that’s belched out the mouth – not farted as popular jokes depict). The quantity of methane is also dependent on the quality of the pasture. Poor quality pastures mean more microbial action is needed for digestion. And most of the grazing is on native vegetation of variable quality. Methane by far dominates the sector’s emission profile at 70%.

    But cropping, soil and fire-related emissions contribute the other 30 per cent of agriculture emissions. The release of nitrous oxide from agricultural soils is the dominant emission source in this sub-category, arising from the application of fertilisers and the use of biological nitrogen fixing crops and pastures.

    Australia would not maintain its agricultural productivity with external inputs of nitrogen through fertiliser or legumes, and savanna woodlands will choke with trees if not burned.

    The problem for agriculture is not only a tax on emissions from production but also increased costs for electricity, fuel and fertiliser. A double whammy.

    So obviously the sector will look for relief from any proposed ETS in planting trees and soil carbon (soil carbon though not yet counted as a sink).

    Even if an ETS is not placed on agriculture – farmers will STILL pay extra for electricity, fuel and fertiliser.

    I’d suggest the Farm Institute and also Meat and Livestock Australia have done heaps of preparatory work on this issue for anyone interested.

  17. Gordon Robertson August 2, 2009 at 5:19 am #

    Don’t shoot me, I’m just the messenger, but here are some sobering thoughts for anyone who believes CO2 is a problem:


    The opening line says it all:

    “Meet the world’s top destroyer of the environment. It is not the car, or the plane, or even George Bush: it is the cow”.

    So let’s get with it Luke, SJT et al…no more barbies for you. As for the rest of you zoophagans, it’s never too late to raise your awareness level of what we do to animals.

    On a more serious note, the information in this article gives one pause for thought. Contrary to my stance on AGW, I have an interest in the environment and my concern was not livestock and their waste products, it was in regard to where all the sewage goes from 4 billion people. The thought of 1.5 billion cows crapping and farting, on top of a few billion other lifestock, plus human waste, is something we’d better address.

    I began life as a meat-eater and stopped it based on a bet between drunks. I vacillated for 20 years but the non-meat eating years gradually raised my awareness that what I was stuffing my face with came at the expense of an animal’s life, and that it wasn’t absolutely necessary for me to participate in that or the abuse inflicted on domestic animals. A couple of jobs I did in slaughter-houses helped. With modern technology, I no longer felt dependent on killing animals to get adequate protein.

    I am not urging anyone to stop eating meat, realizing that is a decision each of us must make for ourselves. Also, I realize only too well that my words will raise the hackles of meat-eaters. All I’m trying to do is open that little door of awareness we all have. It seems like a huge step to vegetarianism, probably a lot like what a smoker faces over quitting, but I can tell you it’s doable, and enjoyable at that. Once the conditioning is gone, the feeling is one of why did I ever eat meat in the first place? There are so many, delicious, high-protein vegetarian dishes that are only limited by one’s imagination. Eating meat is a purely conditioned response based on our ancestors who had no other way to survive.

    Till recently, I ate eggs, as well as halibut with chips. I have stopped eating both the past few years (not chips…with Heinz ketchup) and the thought of an omelette has suddenly become disgusting. Maybe that’s because I had my gall-bladder removed a few years ago and that I nearly OD’d on a cheese omelete fried in butter. Then again, I probably lost my gall-bladder over indulgences in the past on cheese omeletes and my typical three cheeseburgers with chips diet, or a full pizza in one sitting. I still drink 1% milk and eat 19% cheese.

    Believe me, you don’t want gall-bladder trouble. It’s the most excruciating pain I have ever endured, and it doesn’t let up for hours on end. Appendicitis was a joy compared to that. An earlier, related attack was pancreatitis, equally painful and life-threatening. It’s about stones from the gall-bladder getting lodged in the pancreatic duct. All of it is related to dietary fat.

  18. Eyrie August 2, 2009 at 7:08 am #

    Any effects will be temporary. Does anyone really think that when the country is suffering from massive unemployment and economic stagnation in the midst of abundant natural resources there won’t be a political party that gets up and says they’ll fix it all abolishing the ETS and other lunacies?

  19. Neville August 2, 2009 at 8:53 am #

    Gordon, those problems mentioned are related to excess fat and it is mostly saturated fat, not monounsaturated fat e.g. from canola and olive oil.
    Populations who consume large quantities of fat from olive oil don’t have those sorts of problems you mentioned.
    Cheese is best eaten as low fat as are all dairy products, I eat low fat yogurt with fruit as a sweet at least once a day and eat only small quantities of meat , fish etc with the ocassional hamburgher ( Maccas etc )say once or twice a month.
    Homemade burghers with lowfat mince and onions, assorted chopped veges etc can be delicious and very good for you as well.
    But the golden rule for eating is eat the largest breakfast you can consume, eat a moderate sized midday meal and try to cut back to a smaller meal at night.

  20. Bob August 2, 2009 at 11:58 am #

    I’m trying to understand why livestock are considered at all as net emitters of “greenhouse” gases. Grass takes carbon from the atmosphere. Cattle eat the grass (and thus the carbon in the grass). Cattle emit carbon (CO2, methane). They sequester carbon in their bodies while alive. Thus any carbon emissions from cattle (or their waste, or decomposition) is simply the release of carbon that the animal ingested in the first place. How is that a net emission that should be taxed (not that I’m presuming there should be an ETS anyway)? What have I missed? Or are those proposing an emissions “tax” deliberately telling only part of the story?

  21. Hasbeen August 2, 2009 at 12:52 pm #

    Yes Bob, there must be some million of tons of CO2 tied up in our cattle heards.

    Gordon, has it ever occurred to you, that your health problems are diet related?

    You would probably be much healthier if you ate a more natural diet, one that included meat.

  22. davidc August 2, 2009 at 1:23 pm #

    bob, presumably because methane is considered to be more of a greenhouse gas than CO2. So the conversion of some of the CO2 to methane rather than back to CO2 is consided to increase GHG. But sadly, it doesn’t seem that cattle have much to do with atmospheric levels of methane. Never mind, tax’m anyway.


  23. Luke August 2, 2009 at 1:44 pm #

    Bob – quite simply – if we did not graze domestic stock – the natural system with kangaroos would emit less CO2 equivalents NETT (why coz much less GHGs as methane, and a carbon as CH4 is 20x stronger than a carbon as a CO2),

    In a natural state Australia was not covered with millions and millions of ruminant cattle and sheep. The herds exist at the levels they do, as part of human management and agribusiness.

    Whether or not to fully include agriculture in any proposed ETS is still being debated.

  24. Ian middleton August 2, 2009 at 2:39 pm #

    I have a question for the Garnauts of this world. If you are so sure that CO2 and methane emissions from
    herd animals (including sheep) are so bad, then you should be able to produce for me a global CO2 and temperature graph for the 1800’s. Wouldn’t that plot show a downturn in temperatures when 6 million north american Bison were wiped out in the space of 20 years? Can we expect the same fate for 10 million wilebeast in Africa?

    Sheep and cattle are carbon neutral.

    If the ETS is passed it will be sad day for Australia. The only reason Rudd and Wong want to get this bill through is so they can be THE BELLES of THE BALL come Copenhagen. Simple as that.

    ETS has absolutley nothing to do with saving the Australian enviroment. Its a political trophy to be displayed on the international scene.

    end of rant.


  25. cohenite August 2, 2009 at 3:30 pm #

    The whole issue of methane and steaks on hoofs needs to be reexamined;


  26. Luke August 2, 2009 at 3:32 pm #

    No because you didn’t factor in the CO2 from their rotting bodies.

    Alas cattle and sheep are far from carbon neutral. But the ETS can still suck.

  27. Luke August 2, 2009 at 3:46 pm #

    Gee Coho – for sceptics you guys aren’t very sceptical

    No evidence for substantial aerobic methane emission by terrestrial plants


    NEXT !

  28. cohenite August 2, 2009 at 4:10 pm #

    Well, there you go luke, who are you going to believe; and what rotting bodies?

  29. Ian Middleton August 2, 2009 at 4:25 pm #

    No because you didn’t factor in the CO2 from their rotting bodies.

    Alas cattle and sheep are far from carbon neutral.

    Where do you suppose the CO2 in a rotting body comes from? Clue….. grass.
    The carbon in grass comes from the atmosphere.

    After the animal has finished with it ( and that includes us ) the CO2 is recycled back to the atmosphere.
    No net gain.
    Afterall if the grass was left uneaten it would eventually rot and release it,s CO2 anyway.

    Sheep and cattle are carbon neutral. This is not rocket science.

  30. Luke August 2, 2009 at 5:16 pm #

    Mate – errr – joke. However the rapid population scale death of the bison would be more like a pulse than a steady state of background Bison death. But the original Bison point was a silly question if you didn’t have some consideration for anything else climate wise going on at the same time.

    BUT back to it – the belched methane makes cattle and sheep not steady state neutral. Natural Aussie rangeland systems do not emit that much methane. A molecule of CO2 aint a molecule of CH4 – sorry – you can’t dress it up.

    Cattle and sheep are not carbon neutral. But didn’t say I’m opposed the industry or want it unilaterally ETSed.

  31. Bob August 2, 2009 at 6:35 pm #

    Luke says, “carbon as CH4 is 20x stronger than a carbon as a CO2” and “cattle and sheep are not carbon neutral.” Well, for the sake of argument, I’ll agree that methane is not the same as CO2. But I can’t see how livestock are not “*carbon* neutral”. That is, they neither create nor destroy carbon atoms.

  32. Neville August 2, 2009 at 6:48 pm #

    Just to show what a pack of embeciles we have governing from Canberra check out todays age.
    The fantasy says that unless the coalition passes the ets legislation we will see kakadu, tassie wilderness, GBR, Carlton gardens (?) and Sydney opera house irreperably damaged.

    What sort of idiots and fanatics do we have running our country when they can resort to these sort of fairytales?
    And what sort of electorate do we have that will accept this utter garbage. Krudd, wong, garrett and the entire govt are delusional, irrational fools and shouldn’t have any credibility whatsoever.

  33. Luke August 2, 2009 at 8:59 pm #

    Bob – yes indeed carbon atoms are not created our destroyed. But a methane molecule (CH4) is ascribed 22 times the radiative warming potential of a carbon dioxide (CO2) molecule.

    There’s a similar story with changing the timing of savanna burning in the NT from hot late season fires to early cool fires. Same CO2 balance overall but late season fires emit much more nitrous oxide (N2O – which is 300 times a CO2 equivalent) and methane. So you can get a positive NETT CO2 equivalents balance from cooler early season fires in patch mosiacs)


    “An agreement between ConocoPhillips, the NT Government, Northern Land Council, and traditional owners and Indigenous land managers in west Arnhem Land, which provides for the recognition of greenhouse gas abatement achieved through savanna fire management carried out by Indigenous Ranger groups as an offset to some of the greenhouse gas emissions generated at ConocoPhillips’ liquefied natural gas plant in Darwin Harbour. Under the arrangement, Indigenous fire managers are paid around $1million a year for 17 years to provide this fire management service.

    Essentially, the project seeks to increase the proportion of controlled early dry season fires to create fire breaks and patchy mosaics of burnt and unburnt country to minimise destructive late dry season wildfires.

    As well as reducing greenhouse gas emissions by around 100,000 tonnes per year, the project is contributing to positive biodiversity conservation outcomes and providing sustainable employment for Indigenous land managers while maintaining cultural links with traditional lands and land management practices.”

  34. Luke August 2, 2009 at 9:05 pm #

    Neville – I agree with you. There is so much packaging around the greenhouse issue by the Feds. “Carbon pollution” for a start draws the crabs – in that it is not “pollution” in the normal sense of use.

    And even assuming you 100% believed that AGW was for real our efforts are obviously puny in a global sense. The Feds know this but presumably want to show leadership or gather the accolades for being the ones to catalyse an international agreement at Copenhagen on a wider global agenda.

    However if nothing gets up we’ve simply shot ourselves in the foot.

    Why they can’t talk about the issue more frankly bugs me. I guess they’re counting on a proportion of the electorate’s gullibility?

  35. spangled drongo August 2, 2009 at 9:35 pm #

    “Why they can’t talk about the issue more frankly bugs me. I guess they’re counting on a proportion of the electorate’s gullibility?”

    Very true. It gives the impression that the “important decisions are not being made by open minded people of reasonable intellect.”

  36. janama August 3, 2009 at 7:06 am #

    I agree Neville – but also in the Age was this start to a letter to the editor

    Pity our scorched earth
    OUR wasteful, destructive lifestyles have caused a crisis where global climate change is inevitable, with its wide-ranging consequences and ongoing diminution of earthly diversity, essential to the health and beauty of the planet and its inhabitants. Yet our response is to attack nature more ferociously; to beat it into submission.

    I’d be happy to supply the writer with the birch branches necessary to satisfy his penance yet with views like that rampant in our society you must wonder if there is any hope left.

  37. Luke August 3, 2009 at 10:09 am #

    Filing this here, from: http://qcl.farmonline.com.au/news/state/livestock/news/what-carbon-means-for-qld-beef-producers/1583632.aspx?storypage=0

    What carbon means for Qld beef producers

    2/08/2009 4:00:00 AM

    AS momentum builds in the lead-up to the Senate’s vote on the Federal Government’s proposed carbon pollution reduction scheme (CPRS) bill in August, many in the livestock sector are asking just how an emissions trading scheme will impact on its future and profitability.

    While the CPRS is scheduled to start in July 2011, agriculture won’t be included until 2015 at the earliest, with the Government making a decision about whether to include it or not in 2013.

    Dr Beverley Henry, Meat and Livestock Australia’s (MLA) manager of environment, sustainability and climate change, said it is hard to judge how a CPRS will impact on producers at this stage, because so much will depend on what legislation gets passed; what the policy looks like and the Opposition.

    “Despite that, producers will feel the effects of emissions trading as soon as it comes in because of the indirect effects, so the costs of some of their inputs will go up,” Dr Henry said. “Some of the modelling shows that will be a significant impact on producers.”

    MLA has an extensive range of research and development projects under way to help ensure a CPRS doesn’t impact on the profitability of producers, so they can continue to be efficient contributors to protein production.

    Interestingly, Australian beef producers have actually significantly decreased emissions per unit of meat, while at the same time increasing production to meet rising world demand.

    “It is essential is to stress right up front that there is a strong relationship between increasing production and reducing emissions and that much of the research work that we are undertaking will therefore have a dual benefit,” Dr Henry said.

    “The emissions from both beef cattle and sheep have dropped by about 10 percent overall since 1990. And if you look at the amount of beef, where production has gone up, there’s been a 9pc reduction in the amount of emissions per kilogram of product.

    “Research is increasingly showing that Australia’s systems are more environmentally efficient than just about all others internationally.

    “If we were to have a negative impact on production in this country, it’s not going to help global emissions because the demand for meat would have to be met by less efficient systems overseas.

    “I think that’s an important point that we have discussed with the Government and they’re aware of.

    “The greatest part of the emissions that are concerned with agriculture come from livestock and particularly the digestive process in the rumen that produces methane, which is a strong greenhouse gas.

    “The Federal Government has invested in this research as well, and MLA is coordinating a national collaborative program to look at methane mitigation, and that has a mixture of programs around the country for beef, dairy and sheep.”

    Dr Henry said the program involved a mix of short-term and long-term projects to see what practical on-farm measures can be taken to reduce methane emissions without having a negative impact on production. She said MLA had gathered the best researchers in the field in rumen nutrition and metabolism to undertake R&D on the issue.

    “The other important part is that it has to take the research from the lab to a practical outcome on-farm, and that’s important to us – we’re only going to get results from this research if it’s something producers are able to adopt,” Dr Henry said.

    “So in that mix of projects that we’re looking at, we’ve got projects that are getting more accurate estimates of the methane production in different systems from animals eating different feeds.

    “There’s a couple of projects looking at genetic approaches – like selectively breeding for animals that naturally have a lower methane output than others.

    “It varies within animals within the same breed, and if we can select for those lower methane animals that are still performing well, we can reduce emissions that way.

    “Then there’s a series of projects that looks at rumen function and how that can be manipulated.

    “The rumen is a very complex system and it’s evolved over millions of years to take really unpalatable forages, in human terms, and turn them into a good protein source. So we’ve got projects that look at understanding the microbes in the rumen and the activities of different sorts of microbes.

    “It’s only a fraction of the microbes that produce methane and there may be ways of manipulating those or affecting the metabolism of the methane-producing microbes called methanogens.

    “So we’re looking to see if we can reduce that using better quality foods with a high digestibility so they pass through the rumen more quickly, and also using food supplements like oils that are already commonly used in dairy and feedlot situations.

    “Understanding the biochemical pathways in the rumen so we know that when we manipulate the activity of those microbes that produce methane, they’re not going to affect the growth rate of the animal’s productivity, is what we’re looking at.

    “We’ve also got a project looking at how to better manage the waste in feedlots, because manure and urea are sources of nitrous oxide and methane.

    “We’re using a system of open-path lasers to measure what comes off feedlots and then look at chemical ways of managing those emissions.”

    MLA also has projects examining the whole management system – one in southern Australia in higher rainfall areas and another in Queensland.

    Dr Henry said while it’s important for producers to be aware of what’s likely to come in the future, most producers were already playing a major role in reducing emissions by improving efficiencies.

    “Any management strategy that maximises the efficiency of the herd as a whole, such as culling unproductive animals for instance, contributes to reduced emissions.”

    Australian Farm Institute executive director, Mick Keogh, who has undertaken extensive analysis on how a CPRS will impact on Australian agriculture, agreed it was difficult at this stage to foreshadow how a CPRS will impact on producers.

    “There is no doubt that better quality feed results in less emissions per kilo of beef produced,” Mr Keogh said.

    “This suggests that any change to allow cattle to be turned off at a younger age is likely to be an advantage, although it is difficult to say whether farmers should start implementing changes now, or wait for the legislation to become clearer.

    “The main offset opportunity for farmers will be forestry, but it has to be deliberately planted.

    “If farmers are currently undertaking tree planting, they should carefully record all details such as planting date etc, and make sure they retain photographic evidence of the area before planting.

    “The Government has said that agricultural emissions will be included in Australia’s emission reduction effort, one way or another, and there are a number of different options about how this might happen.

    “These range from farmers having to individually calculate farm emissions and provide an annual return (like a greenhouse BAS statement) through to a levy or extra cost being imposed by processors or exporters.

    “It is hoped the government will look at the example of the United States legislation, under which US farmers will be paid for voluntarily taking action that locks up carbon (such as changing crop, soil or fertiliser management) but will not have to pay a cost for farm emissions.

    “This is a model that could provide very positive incentives for Australian farmers to reduce emissions, but not reduce their competitiveness compared to developing nations such as Brazil that will not have greenhouse policies in place for many years.

    “Adoption of the US model would, however, require Australia to change how farm greenhouse emissions are calculated.”

    * MLA’s Dr Beverley Henry will be among the guest speakers at the free Rendel Research Muster at the CSIRO JM Rendel Laboratory, Rockhampton, on August 20-21. Beef producers are encouraged to attend to hear more about research into greenhouse gas and genetics research for the northern Australian beef industry. Contact (07) 4923 8100 to register.

  38. spangled drongo August 3, 2009 at 11:09 am #

    Luke, thanks for that.
    It’s good to see the cockies keeping up but it’s hard to seriously imagine that redesigning the rumen function of cattle is going to save us from AGW.
    Somehow you get the feeling that Lewis Carrol or Spike Milligan are writing the script.

    “We must prevent cattle [and people] at all costs from becoming boring old farts.”

    Or belchers, as the case may be.

  39. Gordon Robertson August 5, 2009 at 12:33 pm #

    Hasbeen “Gordon, has it ever occurred to you, that your health problems are diet related?”

    I am an enigma in that respect. I have been very aware of nutrition since the late ’70’s and as a whole I have eaten in a healthy manner. At other times, I have been just plain stupid, indulging in the bad fats you speak about, albeit for short periods of time.

    When my gall-bladder problems began, I was working in a large crew and some of them were very ill with the flu, etc. I contracted a lung infection that forced me to leave that job, and after that the gall bladder thing occured. The stones detected were very small and the consensus was that they’d pass easily. However, the pain was terrific and the gall-bladder was unusually enlarged, according to one surgeon. I have always suspected that I may have gotten it infected when I contracted the lung infection.

  40. Gordon Robertson August 5, 2009 at 12:44 pm #

    Neville “Gordon, those problems mentioned are related to excess fat and it is mostly saturated fat, not monounsaturated fat e.g. from canola and olive oil”.

    I have been aware of the difference for a long time, but I’m a bit stupid sometimes. I normally steer clear of saturated fat except for the odd pat of butter (teaspoon) on toast. I never put it on potatoes or other vegetables. Having said that, dieticians recommend getting a minimum of 20% of our calories from fats. The internal organs need the fat. For at least 20 years, I have generally substituted polyunsaturates for saturates.

    Although some studies have indicated that people should lose weight as they age, a recent study has claimed the opposite, that seniors with a ‘bit’ of extra weight tend to survive illnesses better.

    I was pretty lucky with the gall bladder remo. Before the surgery, I had read horror stories of people having to be very careful regarding what they ate for fear of sudden rushes to the bathroom. I have been able to eat the odd ice cream, and a pretty normal diet with no side effects.

  41. E.M.Smith August 28, 2009 at 6:05 am #

    FWIW: I’ve “flirted” with the vegetarian diet from time to time. (No particular reason other than coming to know that my Rabbits are very smart, very social, and, well, my friends. And I don’t eat my friends… then generalizing that a bit to some other furry things. Chickens, not so much 😉 Chickens can be very mean, and very very stupid…

    Along the way I discovered that it is very easy to be a meat eater, and very hard to stay healthy as a vegetarian; and it gets harder the further down the vegetarian road you go. The best book I found on it is titled “Transition to Vegetarianism” and is written by an M.D. It details what specific plant foods must be added to the diet to make up for the particular nutrients you are not getting when you skip meat:


    If you are thinking of being a vegetarian, you need to read this book, or one like it, to stay healthy.

    With that said, I can’t quite make the leap.

    My downfall is fried chicken.

    Right behind it are fried catfish, trout, and roast leg of lamb. And sometimes bacon / ham and eggs…

    (Only the lamb makes me feel guilty… so I wash it down with red wine until the guilt fades 😉 No, honest! Really.)

    Per cows and CO2 / methane:

    If the cow eats the plant, it is fermented in the stomach making CO2, methane, and some ends up as cow.

    If the cow does not eat it, it is fermented in the ground making CO2, methane, and some ends up as bacteria.

    I don’t see where much changes with, or without, the cow. (Never hear of “swamp gas”? Should we “drain the swamps” to save the planet? Bet that won’t go over so good with the ‘save the wetlands’ people…)

    But cows, sheep, goats, and yes, even “small ruminants” like rabbits (hind gut fermenters) are very important to the farm ecology.

    They eat the parts of the plants that we, non-ruminants, can not eat. Thus turning waste products into food and recycling the rest faster (reducing synthetic fertilizer needs). The corn silage (leaves, stems, husks, sliks – sometimes aged / fermented) and soybean leaves that would otherwise rot in the ground can be feed to ruminants animals and made useful to us on their way to rotting back to the CO2 from which they came. The only question is: do the plant parts go through the cow or the compost heap? Both ferment. Both release CO2 and some methane. Or you can run the plants through an anaerobic fermenter and get lots of methane as is done on many hog farms (that run the methane through an electric generator to make their own electricity).

    So you can’t just take the ruminants out of the agronomy system without raising costs. A lot. AND reducing food supply. A Lot. And increasing the need for synthetic fertilizers.

    And in the end, the same CO2 will end up back where it started with no net effect.

    BTW, the production of “baby milk” and “baby formula” depend on cows that have given birth to a calf. Said calf grows up. Some of them become more milk cows. The baby bulls, not so much… so… if you would have milk for baby and for baby formula, you will have veal that needs to be eaten by someone. And no, it’s not a very good idea to feed soymilk to babies if you can avoid it. The phyto-estrogens are not good for boys, and may cause early puberty in the girls. There is also evidence for cross reaction between peanut allergies and lupin bean deaths in Europe (where they eat Lupini beans) and an implication that maybe there is some connection between the rise of the soy business in the U.S.A. and the onset of massive increases in Peanut allergies in children as a cross reaction (still speculative, but suspicious).

    At the end of it all, ruminants are important to the farm ecology. We trade a much safer and easier life to the animals in exchange for an end of life at the time of our choosing (that works out very well for the animals as compared to life in the wild, that is hard, brutal and short). AND our biological needs speak to a long history of meat eating as an important part of our diet.

    I can see no reason to penalize folks who raise, or eat, meat animals.

    One thing I did learn along that way (that may be germane to the fats-hurt-health thesis) is that the history of the testing of fats for health impacts did not do a decent job of separating trans-fats out from saturated fats. To the extent pure saturated fats have been tested, they show no real impact on health (Google “tri-stearate” – it was tested and found neutral.)

    It would seem that a great deal of the “evil fats do” is directly attributable to the trans-fats that are in hydrogenated oils, and substantially NONE to the natural animal fats in the diet. They were confounded due to “vegetable shortening” (hydrogenated vegetable oil) being counted as a “saturated fat” when really it was loaded with Trans-fats. Ditto margarine. (about 1/3 trans fats even today. Read the label…)

    So The French had it right: Eat your butter croissant with butter on it; but skip the biscuit made with shortening and topped with Margarine… OH, and the Indians are probably right too when they say clarified butter “Ghee” is the key to longevity. The very short chain fatty acids in butter are very good from a metabolic point of view. Similar to cocoa butter, and coconut oils in that regard.

    So a vegetarian eating vegetable shortening and margarine is NOT helping their health…

    FWIW: We eat about 2 vegetarian meals a week (I did learn some really wonderful recipes while exploring!) and have another 2 or 3 that are “low meat”. Not as part of any design plan; we just found foods we really liked and, well, they “stuck”. (I have a creamy cheesy potato casserole that is nice with, or without, ham bits in it – ovo/lacto vegetarian or low meat; and a vegetarian chili that is almost as good as my beef and beans chili. Then there is that new-potato / lentil curry over brown rice that I just have to have some times… And a couple of times a week we have the fried chicken, the baked ham & yams, or the fried / roasted trout. And every few months, when no one is looking, a turkey with stuffing or that roast leg of lamb… and a nice medium red wine, preferably Aussy or Kiwi that seem well balanced for the job 😉 With plenty of butter for the bread, vegetables, scones, etc. (And NEVER any margarine in sight…)

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