Source: Canadian Cattlemen’s Association
The United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) today released a special report, ‘Climate Change and Land, an IPCC special report on climate change, desertification, land degradation, sustainable land management, food security, and greenhouse gas fluxes in terrestrial ecosystems.’
The report suggests: “Balanced diets, featuring plant-based foods, such as those based on coarse grains, legumes, fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds, and animal-sourced food produced in resilient, sustainable and low-GHG emission systems, present major opportunities for adaption and mitigation while generating significant co-benefits in terms of human health.”
Canada’s beef production system is an excellent example of an “…animal-sourced food produced in [a] resilient, sustainable and low-GHG emission system.” Research shows Canadian beef has one of the lowest greenhouse gas (GHG) footprints in the world, accounting for only 0.04 per cent of the world’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. In Canada, the beef industry attributes just 2.4 per cent of the country’s total GHG footprint while contributing $33 billion to the Canadian economy. Furthermore, substantial amounts of carbon are stored in Canadian rangelands managed by the beef industry.
Cows are part of the climate change solution. Canadian beef cattle help to preserve one of the world’s most endangered ecosystems. Canada’s beef production is centered on the Northern Great Plains, one of four temperate grasslands remaining on the planet. According to the World Wildlife Fund, half of the Northern Great Plains have already been lost to cultivated agriculture. This action threatens wildlife habitats that the beef sector preserves through well-managed grazing. These grasslands are home to at risk species like the swift fox, sage grouse, and monarch butterfly. They are among the 579 birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians that need uncultivated land for feeding, breeding, and shelter. Grazing cattle is also a recognized practice to help mitigate the risk of wildfires.
Land managed by beef producers provides habitat capacity for 68 per cent of wildlife on only 33 per cent of total agricultural land in Canada. As noted in the State of Canada’s Birds 2019 report, ‘beneficial grazing on public and private lands is critical for the creation and maintenance of grassland bird habitat.’ Further, the report recommends conservation actions including protecting the few remaining grasslands, including grazed public lands, from crop agriculture and restoring native grasslands to provide habitat and increase carbon storage. It also recommends citizens do their part by purchasing from sustainable farms and range-fed beef.
Canada is a world leader in sustainable beef production. Industry’s focus on innovation and technology will continue to reduce the environmental ‘hoofprint’ of Canadian beef, which will preserve grasslands for beef production and protect endangered ecosystems.
Consumers certainly have the right to choose the food they eat. However, reducing meat consumption is not a solution to climate change. Research continues to show that reducing food waste will have a far larger impact on mitigating climate change. In Canada, the estimate is that consumers waste 40 per cent of their food, much of which has been refrigerated and transported for great distances to get here.
Through continued responsible stewardship of Canada’s natural resources, the Canadian beef industry will continue to contribute to the growth of the green economy in Canada.