independent

Thursday 17 April 2014

How would you like your steak's carbon footprint?

Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney says the systems developed mean 50,000 farms, including 36,000 beef farms, have had their carbon footprint calculated

COMING soon to a restaurant menu near you: your steak's carbon footprint.

The emissions and environmental impact of the farm, herd and cow that produced the meat on your plate will be made available to the consumer.

Along with the number of calories and origin of the meat, the discerning diner will learn how his or her dinner affected the environment.

Be careful what you wish for, though, as it might be too much information, with cows being the largest producers of greenhouse gases.

In an interview with the Irish Independent, Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney says the systems developed mean 50,000 farms, including 36,000 beef farms, have had their carbon footprint calculated. "When we sell a steak, for example, not only will we able to tell you where it's come from, in terms of all of the traceability requirements.

"We'll also be able to tell you the carbon footprint of the animal that produced it and the carbon footprint of the herd that the animal came from," he said.

"That might sound a bit fanciful, but actually that is what a lot of our buyers are looking for now. Because they want to know that if Ireland is planning for a dramatic expansion

of our food production systems, that actually we can do it in a sustainable way that they can stand over in terms of their customers," he added.

Irish farms are among the lowest producers of carbon emissions in Europe, he said.

Mr Coveney says restaurants and fast-food companies will start providing their customers with greater levels of information, including the carbon footprint.

While he thinks consumers might not be looking for that information just yet, companies like McDonald's and Burger King are.

"I think you'll see McDonald's building marketing campaigns saying: 'Our beef is sourced from X and the carbon footprint from that or the emissions from that beef is on average 40pc lower than the global average. That type of thing," he said.

Mr Coveney says food retailers are becoming "increasingly" conscious of the environmental issues about food production.

"The consumer cares about safety, about cost and about quality, generally," he said.

"McDonald's buys 60,000 tonnes of Irish beef a year. If it was a country, it would be the second biggest importer of Irish beef after Britain.

"The reason why they source 40pc of all of their beef for the EU is directly because of our sustainability systems here, so that they can then sell and brand McDonald's as a company that cares about sustainability, that cares about the environment, that understands the pressures that food production systems are under in terms of water usage, in terms of greenhouse gases, in terms of animal welfare and so on," he said.

Mr Coveney said retailers want the food to be 'green'.

"Consumers may not be buying on the basis of sustainability but certainly the retailers that are selling to them want to have a green tag, if you like, attached to their product that says: 'We source sustainably'," he said.

Irish Independent

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