Red meat can’t be our climate scapegoat - (Fiona Simson, NFF President)

As our farmers prepare for another summer, excuse me if a get a little hot under the collar when being lectured to about climate change and what ‘we’ should do about it.

Across rural Australia, while harvesting, feeding livestock and carting water, farmers are also volunteering to service fire-fighting trucks, test water pumps, maintain fire trails, check two-way radios and train young rural fire brigade members.

In many respects, this is your typical Aussie bush summer. But, for a while now, there’s been an increased uneasiness in the bush as November, then December rolls in and inevitably a scorching January and February descends.

Farmers do not dispute that our climate is becoming more and more precarious. How could we?

"We are literally on the battlefront. Less rain, rain at the wrong time, chaotic weather patterns. Certainly, my family’s weather records, dating back to 1928 will tell you that."  Fiona Simson, NFF President

For the past two years, it has been my honour to take up the fight on behalf of agriculture in the national debate on energy and climate. With the endorsement of our members, the NFF has put forward a progressive position that acknowledges the challenges we face and advocates for action. At its heart, is to find the balance between affordability, reliability and a reduced-emissions future.

We’ve made no secret of our disappointment that in December 2018 – we have no Government-backed climate and energy policy. It really does beggar belief that as a nation we find ourselves in this position.

"What we won’t support, and what makes me see red, are attempts to make livestock (red meat and dairy) production a scapegoat for solving the planet’s emissions intensity challenges." Fiona Simson, NFF President

Passengers on flight QF2008 home to Tamworth yesterday heard me gasp audibly when I read a Guardian article (by no means the first of its kind) telling global citizens to stop eating meat to save the world. 

Unfortunately, I’ve have heard this simplified solution before – cut beef and lamb meat consumption, de-stock and bingo, problem solved!

It makes me sad that the individuals who prosecute this argument, are so blinkered and have such little faith in the ingenuity of human-kind, that they would rather we sacrifice our nutrition requirements than to consider a more multi-faceted approach.

Agriculture does not shy away from our industry’s role in emissions generation. Livestock and crop production together contribute 13 per cent of this nation’s emissions. As an industry, we are the nation’s fourth largest emitter.

We are well advanced in lowering our emissions and steadfast in our commitment to do better. The red meat sector, via Meat and Livestock Australia, has the bold target of being carbon neutral by 2030, thanks to a pathway developed by the CSIRO in concert with farmers. It’s a target that is officially supported by the NFF and echoed in our 2030 Roadmap.

The sector has already contributed strongly in reducing Australia’s total emissions in recent years – reducing emissions by 45% between the baseline year of 2005 and 2015. Fiona Simson, NFF President

We’re deploying science to modify animal feed, reduce methane generated and to better manage the manure that is produced. Genetics is too playing a part in terms of breeding animals that are biologically inclined to emit less. Leading agriculture machinery manufacturers have made giant leaps forward in the energy efficiency of tractors and harvesters.  

Looking after the environment is not a new concept for farmers – it’s our modus operandi. We are the ultimate environmentalists. Farmers manage almost 50% of Australia’s land mass and without healthy soils, water and air and a robust ecosystem our business model just does not fly. Everyday Australian farmers are focused on increasing water use efficiency, improving soil health, controlling noxious weeds and pests and fostering biodiversity.  

Agriculture is also a carbon sequester. There is significant untapped potential to increase the sequestration and storage credentials of our soils and vegetation. Fiona Simson, NFF

Because of geological, topographic and climatic factors, less than 8% of Australia’s land is suitable for crop production – making cattle and sheep farming the most efficient use of this land for producing highly nutritious protein. As a farmer, I take great pride in the fact that, despite our relatively small population, Australian agriculture punches way above its weight when it comes to feeding an increasingly hungry world.

NFF President Fiona Simson says farmers have had a gutful of shallow arguments over red meat emissions. ©

Please, feel free tell to me I am dreaming, but I think we can eat meat and cut emissions at the same time. We have made good inroads so far and it is clear there is a willingness to do even better. My message to the environmental and anti-animal-industry activist movement is: instead of advocating for our demise, please, come with us and support us, in achieving our ambitious environmental targets.


National Farmers' Federation (NFF) 2030 Roadmap: 2030 Roadmap