The Centennial carbon reduction plan starts with the hiccups of cattle and sheep.
In order to slow down global warming and build a sustainable future, reducing carbon dioxide emissions is undoubtedly the primary goal. However, a major challenge in controlling carbon emissions is that the free market does not fully consider the costs associated with pollution. Therefore, many economies in the world started with the energy industry, the “giant” of carbon emissions, and introduced the “carbon tax” as a way to internalize the cost of carbon dioxide emissions.
Agriculture is related to the interests of all people. Due to its special industrial status, its carbon tax has targeted relief programs. But not long ago, the New Zealand government, which takes animal husbandry as the national economic pillar, announced that it plans to impose a carbon tax on domestic pastures, aiming to control methane emissions from more than 10 million cows and 26 million sheep. New Zealand will become the first country in the world to require farmers to pay for livestock methane emissions.
According to the report released by the World Resources Institute in 2020, agriculture accounts for 18.4% of global carbon emissions; Among them, livestock production and fecal emissions accounted for 31.5% of agricultural emissions, accounting for 5.8% of the total emissions. Controlling the carbon emission of pastures has long been one of the issues concerned by the agricultural and scientific circles in Europe and the United States. A number of research on pastures’ emission reduction are also actively promoted, such as improving the composition of cow feed to control methane emissions in the process of digestion and rumination, or doing a good job in the management of livestock and poultry feces.
At a time when European and American countries are often flooded with all kinds of “political correctness”, the “pasture carbon tax” related to the carbon reduction plan is likely to spread rapidly, and the civil debate on it has never stopped. Is the extension of “carbon tax” from the field of energy to agriculture a good thing or a bad thing, and what are the advantages and disadvantages? Besides policy changes, what new possibilities will technological innovation to reduce methane emissions add to the construction of sustainable animal husbandry? In order to effectively promote sustainable practice, what beneficial exploration has domestic dairy enterprises and pastures made to the development of global animal husbandry in terms of carbon reduction? What changes may the “entry” of carbon tax bring to the future of the food industry?
Carbon tax “stationed” in the pasture, carbon reduction is just around the corner?
In April this year, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on climate change (IPCC) released its report climate change 2022: climate change mitigation.
278 authors from 65 countries around the world, after seven years of efforts, cited more than 18000 academic papers, comprehensively evaluated the latest scientific progress in the field of climate change mitigation since 2010, and formed some key conclusions and consensus:
From 2010 to 2019, the global average annual greenhouse gas emissions were at the highest level in human history; Unless all departments immediately and deeply reduce emissions, the 1.5 ℃ temperature control target will not be achieved; To implement strong and efficient emission reduction, the government and society need to coordinate the use of various policies and measures, strengthen Climate Governance, and promote systematic change; The rapid deepening of emission reduction needs to fill the funding gap and promote technological innovation; Accelerating climate action is crucial to achieving sustainable development.
The IPCC report also specifically mentioned that methane plays an important role in the climate crisis – its life span in the atmosphere is shorter than that of carbon dioxide, but it will absorb more heat, and its impact on global warming is about 80 times that of carbon dioxide. According to the food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, about 10% of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide are caused by cow hiccups. In animal husbandry powers such as New Zealand and Australia, the methane released by their pasture livestock accounts for half of the total methane emissions in the country, with an alarming share.
In 2019, agriculture accounted for 48% of New Zealand’s greenhouse gas emissions, most of which came from methane released when livestock belch. New Zealand has a population of about 5million, but the number of cattle and sheep is as high as 2 times and 5.2 times of the total population (10million and 26million respectively), becoming the “culprit” of carbon emissions. However, agricultural emissions have not been included in New Zealand’s carbon trading plan before, and the New Zealand government has therefore been questioned for its negative implementation of the emission reduction agreement.
The new tax draft released by the Ministry of climate change of New Zealand on June 8, if passed, will make New Zealand the first country to have such legislation – farmers will pay taxes on methane emissions from livestock from 2025.
The draft plan was jointly formulated by the government and agricultural representatives to reach a basic consensus on the sustainable development of the industry. Andrew Hoggard, the national president of the New Zealand farmers’ Federation, who took a positive attitude towards the new draft, said: for many years, the agricultural community has been cooperating with the government and other organizations to seek a sustainable development mode of domestic agriculture, and try to achieve a balance between safeguarding the interests of practitioners and coping with the global climate crisis.
The farm carbon tax bill is an important measure worthy of consideration and has not been fiercely opposed by the agricultural sector. However, the industry is worried that after several rounds of negotiations, the details of some plans for the pasture carbon tax, such as the standards and regulations for the implementation of supervision, the specific tax price of agricultural emissions, the computer system of methane emissions, and other key details that are closely related to farmers have not been finalized, which may bring variables to the real implementation of the new tax.
Susan Kilsby, an agricultural economist at ausheng bank, said that the proposal could have a huge impact on agriculture. The original intention of the plan is to achieve sustainability, but the increase in production costs caused by the new tax may be transferred to consumers along the supply chain, resulting in a decline in consumer demand and restricting the benign development of the industry.
Image source: citinewsroom
However, if we focus on the purpose of carbon reduction itself, the regulatory role of carbon tax has still been recognized by the mainstream. The world economic forum once published an article on the issue of carbon tax, saying that carbon tax can reflect the social cost of carbon and is an important policy tool to limit carbon emissions. In the 1990s, many industrialized countries have used carbon taxes to prevent carbon emissions from fossil fuels and promote the use of clean energy. For example, since 1991, Sweden’s carbon tax has been the main tool of national climate policy, covering energy emissions in transportation, construction (heating), industry and agriculture.
According to the Swedish government report, Sweden’s greenhouse gas emissions decreased by 35% from 1990 to 20120. The Swedish Environmental Protection Agency said that the carbon tax and other climate policies complement each other, stimulating the innovation and use of green heating technology and promoting emission reduction. Although some critics of the carbon tax believe that the carbon tax will damage the economy, Sweden’s GDP has increased by 83% since the carbon tax was imposed, and it still remains the world’s top ten economic competitiveness.
Image source: Sweden Government
No matter from the data of carbon emissions and economic growth, Sweden, which introduced the carbon tax, seems to continue to be on the right track of development, but is this really the credit of the carbon tax?
Sweden has imposed a carbon tax since the early 1990s, but there are surprisingly few econometric empirical studies to assess its impact, and the results presented by the studies are also inconsistent – some studies have found that the carbon tax has no significant impact on emissions, while some studies have shown that the carbon tax has significantly reduced industrial carbon emissions.
Shmelev and speck, two researchers, analyzed and studied the impact of carbon tax on Sweden’s total emissions in 2018. Their time series analysis showed that the general carbon tax had no significant impact on carbon dioxide emissions, but the regulation role of carbon tax was strengthened by imposing specific carbon tax on gasoline, energy tax and carbon tax on coal and liquefied petroleum gas. Therefore, combined with various influences, Shmelev and speck believe that the main factor for the decline of carbon dioxide emissions in Sweden is not the carbon tax, but the effective regulation and control of carbon emissions by the trend of oil prices and technological development.
What are the other tricks to control methane in pasture?
According to a cooperative study released by the United Nations in 2021, the world food system accounts for more than one third of the global anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions, while China is the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases from the agricultural food system. As China reaffirms its commitment to the Paris Agreement and proposes a “dual carbon vision”, greenhouse gas emissions from farms may be subject to more rigorous scrutiny.
More than a quarter of China’s agricultural greenhouse gas emissions come from herbivorous ruminants such as cows, goats and sheep. Therefore, carbon reduction actions in the domestic agricultural sector also begin with optimizing livestock breeding.
Mengniu’s animal husbandry group, China Shengmu, led the industry in carrying out carbon neutralization action in the upstream dairy industry, reducing breeding emissions through breeding intervention, returning feces to the field, efficient fertilizer use, tree planting and sand control and other measures, creating a benchmark case of carbon reduction, and was selected into the enterprise carbon neutralization roadmap of the United Nations Global Compact organization in June last year. According to Mengniu’s 2021 sustainable development report, in the upstream, China Shengmu has integrated carbon reduction into all links of production and operation, created a green low-carbon ecosystem driven by “planting and breeding plus and minus carbon” and “agriculture, forestry and grass carbon fixation”, and achieved a year-on-year decrease in carbon emissions of 5.7% in 2021.
Image source: coremoon herpetaceae
In order to better promote low-carbon and green development, Yili, a well-known dairy company, has chosen to use science and technology to empower sustainability, fully integrate digital and intelligent technology with traditional aquaculture, create a “green smart pasture” and fulfill its commitment to carbon reduction. In June this year, the green smart breeding demonstration park project of 180000 cows of Yili Group was officially launched. Guided by the concept of ecological priority and green development, through photovoltaic construction and the harmless treatment of fecal sewage and the resource utilization of fecal sewage, green electricity and clean energy heating are provided while solving the problem of fecal sewage. It is estimated that the annual carbon emission reduction can reach more than 800000 tons, Realize the comprehensive utilization of agricultural and light complementary energy and the circular economy of planting, breeding and biological treatment.
Domestic pastures continue to make beneficial explorations on the road of sustainable animal husbandry. Looking at the global agricultural field, many “new technology potential” around the forefront of the industry are also growing, playing an important leading role in reducing methane emissions.
1. Add some ingredients to three meals a day for animals
In October 2019, Royal DSM group of the Netherlands, the leader in the animal nutrition industry, launched a feed additive bovaer, which claimed that it could reduce the intestinal methane emissions of cows by 30% and beef cattle by as much as 90%.
Bovaer ® It is applicable to all kinds of ruminants, including sheep, goats and deer, and can significantly and timely reduce the environmental footprint of meat and dairy products. Add a quarter tablespoon of bovaer to the cow feed every day ®， It can inhibit the enzymes that catalyze methane in the rumen and continuously reduce the intestinal methane emission.
Once the additive enters the cow’s body, it will take effect immediately and can be naturally decomposed in the digestive system. Once the use is stopped, the cows can recover the original methane emission, which has no subsequent impact on cows and is harmless to farmers and consumers.
2. Optimizing fecal management can turn waste into treasure
At the 26th United Nations climate change conference at the end of last year, the White House said that one way to reduce methane emissions from agriculture was to change the “manure management system”.
A study published in the Journal of Dairy Science in 2018 found that changing the way feces are stored and treated is the key to achieving the methane emission reduction target of 40% of cow feces in California and coping with climate change. The study conducted the most thorough and detailed measurement and analysis of methane emissions from dairy production in California.
The results confirmed that the direct methane emissions of ruminants, such as digested gas or hiccups of cows, often remained stable throughout the year. However, the emissions from manure storage may vary greatly and depend on the weather; Summer is usually three to six times higher than winter. Therefore, in general, the emission difference between dairy farms is related to the amount of feces stored under anaerobic or humid conditions.
Image source: Dairy energy
Dr. Claudia Arndt, now a postdoctoral fellow at the center for Tropical Agricultural Research and higher education in Costa Rica, said: most of the differences in emissions between dairy products are mainly due to the proportion of feces stored in liquid form. Reducing the amount of feces stored in this way, or reducing the time for feces to be stored in liquid form, can significantly reduce methane emissions.
In addition, through technology to capture and utilize the methane, feces can also be turned into fuel to provide heat or electricity. Now more and more factories begin to pay attention to this kind of biomass energy, and purchase equipment to make efficient use of feces to provide heat energy for buildings. This can not only dispose of the “waste” previously considered, but also reduce operating costs, and even make profits by selling these resources.
Image source: phoenix.com
In November last year, BMW, a well-known car company, launched “cow dung power generation” in the United States to provide a new option for charging electric vehicles. BMW has conducted a cooperative project with California bioenergy (calbio) and bar 20 dairy farm, aiming to use a new methane digester to decompose feces to produce biogas and fertilizer, which can be used to generate renewable energy for the power grid or charge cars.
Bar 20 dairy farm is equipped with advanced technical facilities such as methane digester, gas purification device and bloom energy fuel cell generator. The biogas produced by cow dung will first be decomposed and released through a milk dung anaerobic technology, and then converted into renewable electricity through a methane separation device and a series of electrochemical processes. It is understood that the bar 20 dairy system is very efficient. Using the same amount of biogas, its power generation is twice that of traditional generators. The power generation of this project is equivalent to supplying power to 17000 electric vehicles every year.
3. Niu also needs to wear a mask, which is still an exclusive design!
In May this year, the cow burping mask designed by British design group zelp for reducing methane emissions and mitigating climate change won the prestigious Prince Charles award. As part of its sustainable market initiative, zelp was one of the four winners of the first Terra cart design laboratory competition launched by Prince Charles. Prince Charles praised the groundbreaking mask design as “extremely attractive” at the awards ceremony in London.
Image source: Associated Press
This mask is an intelligent wearable safety belt for cows, which can convert methane into carbon dioxide and water vapor. After testing, it can reduce methane emissions of cows by up to 60%. Zelp’s solution allows cows to rely on masks to detect, capture and oxidize methane produced by burping cows without deliberately changing their original diet.
According to wired, the sensor at the tip of the mask can detect when the cow exhales and the percentage of methane emitted. When the methane content is too high, the mask will start the oxidation mechanism. Francisco Norris, co-founder of zelp, said the mask would also collect intelligent data about animals to improve farm efficiency and animal welfare.
From “sugar tax” to “carbon tax”, how to make good use of economic leverage for sustainable food?
The New Zealand government’s burping tax on cattle and sheep is not only a bold exploration to build a sustainable animal husbandry, but also makes more people realize that greenhouse gas emissions related to the food industry are not the result of fossil fuel use, but mainly from biological activities.
Today, more than 40 countries, including all EU countries, have implemented carbon taxes or carbon emissions trading schemes (ETS), but the part related to food production and consumption is still very thin, and no country has introduced a specific carbon tax for food at present.
Based on this, the UK Climate Change Health Alliance (an alliance of 21 health organizations including the Royal College of medicine and nursing, the College of health, the British Medical Journal and the lancet, a British Medical Journal) called for the implementation of a food “carbon tax” – a tax levied on food producers based on the carbon footprint of products.
Image source: just food magazine
History shows that fiscal measures are often very effective in bringing about change. In April, 2018, the implementation of the soft drink industry tax (sidl, also known as the “sugar tax”) in the UK led to more than half of the beverage manufacturers redesigning their products to reduce the Sugar formula, resulting in an overall 30% reduction in sugar consumption in the whole soft drink market.
The regulatory power of fiscal means in the downstream of the industry will also boost the process of global sustainable development. When consumers need to pay for additional products, consumer behavior will naturally change. The implementation of the UK plastic bag tax will reduce disposable plastic bags by 86%. The introduction of the minimum alcohol unit price in Scotland has led to a reduction of 9.5 grams of alcohol per adult per family per week, which proves this.
At the same time, modeling studies from other countries also support the effectiveness of food carbon tax policies. In 2015, Sweden focused on emissions from seven animal products (beef, pork, chicken and four different dairy products), and imposed hypothetical taxes on these products according to their environmental costs. By taxing only these seven products, the study shows that livestock related emissions will likely be reduced by 12%.
However, the impact of food on the environment is a very complex problem. Considering the numerous steps in the supply chain and various emissions, imposing a single tax on all products of a single type and formulating targeted emission reduction policies may not only unfairly treat some producers in the entire food industry, but also send wrong messages to consumers.
Given this complexity, a fairer option would be for all food producers to be taxed, with each food taxed according to its current carbon footprint data. Under this system, every production link from production, processing to packaging and transportation will be taken into account. At present, it is difficult to accurately predict what kind of chain reaction this comprehensive tax system will have on the food industry. However, the additional costs caused by the implementation of carbon tax to the entire industry will obviously ultimately be borne by consumers, and will have a significant impact on low-income groups.
Image source: Food navigator
As one of the necessities of life, the imposition of carbon tax will increase the cost of daily life of low-income groups. They can only reduce the purchase of food, or reduce the purchase of other necessities of life. Both of the two choices will reduce their quality of life, while a few groups with higher incomes will be less affected, thus forming the so-called “regressive effect” of taxation. Therefore, the design of environmental tax needs to carefully select the tax object, and carefully analyze and deal with the relationship between specific products and people’s livelihood.
Reducing greenhouse gas emissions from the food industry is a global challenge that requires interdisciplinary cooperation and effective political action. It is undeniable that food carbon tax is a powerful tool to build a sustainable industrial future, but its related research results are still relatively weak. In the future, it is necessary to conduct more in-depth comprehensive research and judgment on the tax mix of different products and the potential cumulative impact on other socio-economic issues. Therefore, carbon tax is not suitable for “topping” into the sustainable blueprint of the food industry.
While all circles in New Zealand are debating whether the ranch carbon tax is reasonable, Europe, thousands of miles away, has directly turned the concept into a reality – at the end of June this year, coop supermarket in Sweden quietly put on the shelves a “green beef” that claims to reduce methane emissions, which is the world’s first beef that focuses on the “low methane” concept. It is reported that this product is the result of coop’s cooperation with protein supplier PROTOS and Volta Greentech, a start-up company in the field of feed biotechnology. The secret of its methane reduction lies in the addition of red algae to cattle feed.
Image source: Volta Greentech
Although there are no more details to show whether the pastures that produce this “low methane” beef are also “encouraged” by economic means such as “carbon tax”? However, it is certain that there will be a large market for “low methane” food in Europe, where environmental awareness ranks first in the world.
From the well-designed smart methane reduction “Mask”, to the “methane emission reduction meal” with special additive bovaer, and then to the launch of low methane beef, a food industry chain around low methane is being accelerated, and these will become an important part of the sustainable blueprint of the food industry.
Carbon tax is not everything, and various economic means to try to promote carbon reduction also have their own advantages and disadvantages. However, the discussion triggered by the pasture carbon tax has opened more doors and windows for the food industry to explore more effective and sustainable methods. One day, when label free bottles and zero carbon milk are everywhere in the consumer market, and everyone is proud of consuming low-carbon / zero carbon products, we may not forget those cows and sheep who silently contributed to the carbon reduction plan in those years!
Cover image source: North p&i Club
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