New Zealand beef and lamb among the most carbon efficient in world

// Climate Change

New research has confirmed the carbon footprint of New Zealand beef and lamb is amongst the lowest in the world.

The comprehensive study by AgResearch has found that a kilo of New Zealand sheepmeat has a carbon footprint of just under 15 kilograms (kgs) of CO2 equivalent emissions per kilo. 

Meanwhile, the carbon footprint of New Zealand beef is just under 22kgs– making the country’s red meat among the most efficient in the world.

The researchers, which compared New Zealand’s on-farm emissions to a range of countries’ footprints across the globe, concluded that when New Zealand beef or sheepmeat is exported, the total carbon footprint is lower or very similar to domestically-produced red meat in those nations.

This is because New Zealand is so efficient at the farm level, which represents about 90-95% of the total carbon footprint. New Zealand’s on-farm footprint was about half the average of the other countries compared in the study.  

Based on the research, an analysis by B+LNZ and MIA shows eating red meat 2-3 times a week over the course of an entire year is just under the carbon footprint of a single passenger’s return flight from Auckland to Christchurch.

The Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) study was commissioned by Beef + Lamb New Zealand and the Meat Industry Association of New Zealand (MIA). 

As the world's second biggest exporter of lamb and one of the largest beef exporters, sustainable farming is a critical part of the country’s red meat sector strategy. 

The LCA was calculated using the standard GWP100 approach for converting methane to carbon dioxide equivalent to enable valid international comparisons. 

AgResearch scientists also measured the carbon footprint of New Zealand beef and sheepmeat using an emerging approach known as GWP*, which determines a carbon footprint based on a product’s actual contribution to the warming of the planet over a period of time rather than total emissions.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has found that the traditional GWP100 method overstates the impact of methane when this gas is not increasing, as is the case in New Zealand.

The calculation using GWP* for the period 1998 to 2018 showed that when taking into account sequestration -- trees and other vegetation on farms absorbing emissions -- New Zealand’s sheepmeat is arguably “climate neutral” and New Zealand beef is also well on the way towards that. 

That means over the last 20 years, New Zealand sheepmeat has not added any additional warming. Absolute greenhouse emissions from New Zealand sheep and beef farming have decreased by 30 per cent since 1990.

Sam McIvor, chief executive of B+LNZ, says the research proves beyond doubt that New Zealand beef and sheepmeat has one of the lightest carbon footprints for red meat in the world. 

“There are a number of ways to calculate the climate impact of food products, but on any measure, New Zealand red meat is world-leading when compared to other major meat producers.

“New Zealand sheep and beef farmers are making outstanding progress in improving the sector’s carbon footprint, through world-best animal husbandry, by planting and retaining trees and other woody vegetation on-farm to absorb greenhouse gas emissions and pioneering the use of low-methane animals.”

Sirma Karapeeva, chief executive of the Meat Industry Association, says the research shows consumers can feel confident that purchasing New Zealand red meat is good for them and a good choice environmentally. 

“We know consumers are increasingly calling for transparency in the food products they purchase. Consumers are not only seeking food that tastes good but they want robust assurances that it has been sustainably raised with a minimal environmental impact. This scientific study shows New Zealand beef and lamb fits the bill perfectly.”

Mr McIvor says that while the research shows New Zealand sheep and beef farmers are among the most efficient in the world, continuous improvement is required. 

“The AgResearch GWP* LCA looks backwards at how much additional warming has been produced per kilo of beef or sheepmeat over the last 20 years. It shows that sheep and beef farmers have done a great job over the last 20-30 years, but we acknowledge our ongoing warming and that we arguably still need to do more.    

“New Zealand has recognised that methane is a short-lived gas and therefore only needs to reduce and not go to zero, however the methane reduction targets in the Zero Carbon Bill are too high.

“The research builds understanding about the GWP* science and supports the sector with its call for the Government to reduce the methane targets and start reporting annually on warming as well as emissions.

“Our farmers remain committed to making a contribution to achieving scientifically-justified emissions targets in order to keep a lid on global temperature rises, but this needs to be fair, based on science and reflect reality.

“We’re urging Ministers and officials to use GWP* to reassess the methane targets.”

Dr. Stewart Ledgard, lead study researcher at AgResearch, says accurately measuring and reporting the environmental impact of products has never been more critical to creating a sustainable future.

“LCA analyses the full life cycle of a product including transport and consumption, and is an effective and important tool to help the world understand a carbon footprint and minimise our impact on the environment.

“New Zealand has a good story to tell in terms of the traditional methodology.”   

The United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) is currently looking at GWP* and whether it can be used in carbon footprints, he says.

“Although the FAO has noted that the GWP* method is useful, it also has limitations in that it just compares a point in time for whether new warming has been added, and ongoing warming is also relevant.”

Mr McIvor says: “While the use of GWP* in Life Cycle Assessment studies is new and novel, it’s now becoming mainstream science elsewhere. We wanted to do this to demonstrate the difference between the gases and the importance of focusing on warming in order to build understanding of the science.”

The release of the report was timed to coincide with research published in the Environmental Impact Assessment Review journal.

As GWP* had not been used in an LCA to date, the methodology was peer-reviewed and published before release.

The use of the term ‘climate neutral’ is also new and emerging. Additional time was therefore needed to consult on its use with climate scientists including Prof. Frank Mitloehner and Prof. Dave Frame. The term is referred to in the FAO guidelines on methane and metrics released for public consultation in October 2022, and it is recognised as a term that is beginning to be used to explain the climate impact of non-C02 gases.


Notes to editor

The LCA uses a “Cradle to grave” approach that accounts for all GHG emissions associated with all inputs and processes at all stages of the lifecycle. It includes wastes and end-of-life emissions (e.g. from packaging, food-waste and effluents) as well as shipping and transportation. The report conducted a literature review that looked at 12 studies for beef and nine for sheep. 

For more information, please contact:

James Ford


027 235 9806

Jarrod Booker


021 832 351

Related links

LCA, Ledgard, life cycle analysis