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Carbon Negative Meat

Carbon Negative Meat?

We took part in a group project with other farmers to take an audit of our farm carbon. This was done using a carbon accounting tool called Agricalc. 

At our farm here, when considered as a whole farm system, the carbon sequestration was measured to be 227% of the on farm emissions. Meaning overall, we are a significant carbon sink. This is largely due to the woodland and hedgerow creation we have done.

This result means we can market our meat as carbon negative meat. This report from Agricalc is backed up by enough research and evidence that this is an acceptable claim and would be endorsed by Trading Standards.

But is it legit?

Any carbon accounting tool is going to have its limitations. There are different ways in which to  consider carbon equivalents (biogenic methane), there are a variety of different levels of detail to go into in the accounting. From what I’m told, agricalcs as a tool now has quite a large data set from which it works, meaning despite its inherent limitations, it’s able to consider one farm relative to another and make recommendations. For example, our beef and sheep operations have a relatively lower associated emissions than most farms in the data set, due to being grass fed, without fertilising the grass. Our pig operation has higher associated emissions than the average, because we use a rare breed traditional style pig (the large black) that lives outside.. It’s more efficient from a carbon point of view to raise pigs inside and use modern varieties that have been bred for productivity. A farm is more than just the animals on it, and so when you consider the landscape in which they live, if it sequesters more carbon than the animals emit, can the meat be considered carbon negative? For our farm, the fact we run events wasn’t included in the accounting, as the model wasn’t designed for that. Our events definitely have associated emissions. So, how and should you include the other activities on farm? or even the lifestyles of the people who live on a farm? 

The argument for livestock carbon emissions comes from their production of methane. There is currently a lot of debate within academia as to how to factor biogenic (produced from livestock) methane. It has a much shorter lifespan than carbon dioxide and is fundamentally different from fossil fuel sources of methane. The other source of carbon emissions is from the production of feeds - from arable systems - and so more of an issue in the pig system. Grass based systems can be designed so that there isn’t a significant amount of carbon produced, and carbon can be sequestered by the grassland itself. 

Carbon dioxide and its contribution to climate breakdown is obviously a critical issue the world faces, however, it becoming the sole focus could be unhelpful, particularly in a farming context. Farming provides so many useful ecosystem services beyond carbon sequestration: water and air purification, biodiversity preservation, nutritious food, fibre, fuel and meaningful work in rural communities… If carbon is the sole focus, then we get situations where whole farms are covered in trees; this then has financial value through carbon credits. It is actually the case that big multinationals such as British Airways are buying farms in Wales with the intention of mass planting trees, in order to justify flying planes. 

If food is designed to be the least carbon emitting then we are in a race to oversimplification of diets and a loss of quality. The benefits to both the individual and the world of a pasture raised, grass fed sirloin steak are somewhat greater than one of Linda’s vegan burgers. Resilient productive farmland, and food, is about much more than how much carbon it emits. 

Back to the point. Homemade as a label just means that it would be possible for you to buy the ingredients that go into a product, not that it was made at someone's home. Handmade means that someone used their hands at some point, it could still have been in a factory production line of machines. Fresh just means that a food stuff hasn’t been thermally processed - not that it was harvested recently. Worryingly, grass fed doesn’t even mean an animal only eats grass and lives in a field. It means that at least 70% of its diet is grass, it could spend 100% of its time inside... If our farm sequesters significantly more carbon than it emits, and we’ve chosen not to sell those carbon credits so someone else can justify their emissions. Then does our meat count as carbon negative meat? If carbon isn’t actually the most important thing, why do I even want that label? Nevermind then.


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