The beef industry will be looking to productivity and efficiency improvements as its pathway to carbon neutral status, rather than relying on offsets, according to managing director of red meat research organisation Meat & Livestock Australia Jason Strong.
The goal of a zero carbon footprint within the next ten years, known as CN30, could not be thought of in isolation, Mr Strong told a senate estimates hearing in Canberra last week.
"There is no question that at the same time as wanting to leave the environment in a better place we have to have businesses that are sustainable on an intergenerational basis and our industry has to be more profitable and more efficient - those things are closely tied together," he said.
There were already mechanisms for people to invest in offsets to get themselves on the path to carbon neutrality, Mr Strong said, but that does not provide an improvement in productivity or efficiency.
A number of beef brands were carbon neutral now, and while they were fantastic flagship examples it was worth saying they included investment in offsets, he said.
Mr Strong did make the point, however, that where offsets become important is in being able to demonstrate to the 'absolute deniers' that carbon neutral progress could be made.
"So if people say you can't get to carbon neutrality - well, you can actually plant enough trees to offset the number of livestock you have," he explained.
Of course, using land for planting trees rather than growing cattle reduces productivity.
Mr Strong was speaking at the Senate Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport hearing about how the ambitious project was progressing and what sort of support within the industry it had.
He said while there were varying views, the short answer was that yes, it did have the support of the industry.
He explained a number of years ago, the CSIRO released a report that gave strong indications that with the right investments and approach to research and development it was indeed possible for the red meat industry to get to a carbon neutral position.
"When you line this up with the shifting community sentiment around interest in sustainability and different perceptions that exist around livestock's contribution to emissions, and our exposure to the international market which takes 70 per cent of our beef and half our sheepmeat, the industry thought it was important to establish our sustainability credentials," Mr Strong said.
Red meat accounts for around 10pc of Australia's emissions, which is a 57pc reduction on the figure from 2005.
Asked for his opinion on political commentary that zero net emissions would shut down agriculture, Mr Strong said: "There are a whole range of challenges for us in that.
"We are aware of sensitivity around this issue. Our responsibility as an RDC (research and development corporation) is to make sure we provide the best available information possible.
"We'll stay out of political views but we don't agree with those views."
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