New Zealand Lamb: An Apology

New Zealand lamb
Photo credit: Sixintheworld

At one of my first public talks, in London, someone asked me what I thought of the fact that New Zealand lamb involved the production of less CO2 than British lamb. I responded that there was something odd about the study being conducted by the New Zealand Lamb Marketing Board (or somesuch), and rubbished the idea.

Thanks to a follow-up email from a correspondent, I’m changing my tune. The CO2 claim about New Zealand lamb is certainly exaggerated (and a good rebuttal is available here). A key part of the reason that NZ lamb is less CO2 intensive than British beef has to do with the energy production mix in New Zealand, where anything up to 80% of all national power comes from hydroelectric power, whereas British power is mainly coal-based.

This doesn’t, however, stop the basic point from being sound – while the figures might not be as high, there does seem to be a case that most British lamb involves the generation of more CO2 than its Kiwi equivalent.

But this is if we compare feedlot-produced UK lamb to pasture-raised NZ lamb. And herein lies the rub. Feedlot-raised animals, wherever they are, are profoundly unsustainable. The costs of CO2, methane, nitrite and other waste emissions are all missing from the price tag on lamb. Factoring in CO2 emissions means that feedlot-farming is *certainly* environmentally less sustainable than pasture farming, to the extent that less CO2 is generated by lamb grown half-way around the world.

There is, however, pasture-raised lamb in Britain. If we compared this to its New Zealand equivalent, we’d find the antipodean claim about carbon emissions wanting.

That, at any rate, was the answer I should have given in London. Still – never too late to make amends.