Foodservice Footprint cow The Friday Digest: Bold beef boasts and a squeeze on non-dairy ‘cheese’ claims           Out of Home News Analysis  news-story-top news-email-top

The Friday Digest: Bold beef boasts and a squeeze on non-dairy ‘cheese’ claims          

This week we start with beef – which is carbon negative in Argentina but struggling to stay carbon neutral in Australia, and still isn’t “verified sustainable” in McDonald’s.

The carbon negative beef claim coming from Argentina is reportedly thanks to a mix of silvopasture systems (grazing in a forest environment), feed additives and gene-editing techniques. The silvopastures are crucial: basically the trees and pasture sequester more than the livestock emit. “On the one hand, we have emissions from animals that are important and on the other hand we have carbon removal that is also important,” explained Rodolfo Bongiovanni, from the National Institute of Ag Tech (INTA), in Argentina, and one of the project leads. “In that balance, in that plus and minus, is where this value arises, a carbon neutral or rather negative meat value, because it sequesters more than it emits,” he told La Nacion. It’s a mighty claim that will no doubt attract attention. 

Indeed, the role of sequestration in neutralising livestock emissions is a hot topic. Some research suggests pinning hopes on it to ensure the meat and dairy production status quo is a little risky. News from Australia only adds to the doubts. 

Jigsaw Farms in south-western Victoria has been a “beacon of hope for the red meat industry”, reports Euronews, after boasting its carbon neutral status in 2011. However, since about 2017 – the same year the industry body Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA) announced a target of carbon neutral emissions by 2030 – Jigsaw Farms has been emitting more greenhouse gases than it could sequester, reports The Guardian. “Cows and sheep are still there producing the same amount of methane [every year], but the trees grow up and carbon sequestration slows down,” said, Richard Eckard, a professor at the University of Melbourne, who has a report undergoing peer review on the matter. 

All is not lost, of course. There are other solutions, like feed additives and genetics and wider regenerative approaches, which could all further reduce emissions form livestock farms – in time. The farmer involved, Mark Wootton, admitted he was perhaps a bit “cocky” at the outset, thinking they’d conquered carbon emissions from livestock farms.

McDonald’s has also had a cocksure claim come back to bite it. In 2014 the fast food chain said it would begin sourcing “verifiable, sustainable beef“. That claim was made despite there being no definition of sustainable beef, nor any timetable or target. A decade on and the fast food chain appears to have got nowhere, according to a detailed report by GreenBiz. This is “what happens when a well-intentioned company bumps up against the realities of transforming complex, global supply chains”, the site noted. Or to put it another way: this is what happens when you greenwash? 

The article suggests McDonald’s has been trying its best and progress has been “slow and nuanced, but also undeniable”. Details are a little thin on the ground, however. Still, despite the failure McDonald’s is happy to open another 9,000 restaurants by 2027, presumably serving verified unsustainable beef (?).

Seeking solutions for the forecast rise in production and consumption of meat helps avoid the cow in the room. There is almost zero acceptance across ‘big meat’ of the need to consume less beef in developed countries, notes Just-Food. “Do these companies have a desire to reduce production? Does a single one of them say we are going to reduce production? Absolutely not, [less beef] is in no-one’s plan,” said Irina Gerry, chief marketing officer at Change Foods, which is creating animal-free dairy foods through precision fermentation technology. “I have yet to see verifiable ‘better’ beef. It’s all stories rather than statistics,” she added.

Some meat alternatives are not having an easy time of it, though. Scrutiny of the products, which have been swept up into the ultra-processed food basket, is intense. Beyond Meat’s announcement of its new ‘Beyond IV’ burger caught the eye. These are the meatiest, juiciest beef products yet” the statement reads (comparisons with the Beyond 3.0 product are available via GreenQueen). The new iterations are made with avocado oil, which provides “heart-healthy monounsaturated fats, and have just 2g of saturated fat per serving with 21g of protein from peas, brown rice, red lentils and faba beans”. It is all about the taste and nutritional benefits; and there is no mention of the product’s sustainability credentials. It’ll also be pricier.

Plant-based products are also covered in our other news this week, with new UK standards expected to outlaw phrases like “m*lk”, “cheeze” for non-dairy products. We also report from Compass’s climate meet and cover a call for stricter laws and targets on farm antibiotic use.