A Beef With the News

"Australia’s online news commentariat that has found passing endless comment on other people’s work preferable to breaking real stories and adding to society’s pool of knowledge", says the Australian. I can understand that when you’ve tracked down sources for interviews or paid thousands of dollars for opinion polling, it must be irritating to have bloggers challenging your authority to report and analyse the news. But much of what appears in newspapers and magazines is not news — it’s comment. And a lot of newspaper comment is no more reliable that what appears in blogs.

Take Michael Duffy’s recent piece for the Sydney Morning Herald for example. After making some sensible points about bottled water, Duffy warns us about the environmental dangers of walking:

It’s time for all of us to reconsider our personal impact on the environment. A most helpful new book is How to Live a Low-Carbon Life by the leading British environmentalist Chris Goodall. It has some surprises.

For instance, Goodall has calculated that walking is worse for global warming than driving, because most people replace some of the energy used in walking by eating more meat, and the production of meat creates much greenhouse gas.

Here’s where the story comes from. First Duffy tracks down a copy of Goodall’s book — How to Live a Low-Carbon Life. Goodall has put some of his research on the web (pdf). In a paper on his web site Goodall reports on an article in New Scientist Magazine. In the 18 July issue, the New Scientist’s Daniele Fanelli, in turn, reports on an article in Animal Science Journal. And finally in this article, Akifumi Ogino, Hideki Orito, Kazuhiro Shimada and Hiroyuki Hirooka, break the story and add to society’s pool of knowledge. After all, they’re scientists.

The trouble with fourth-hand stories like Duffy’s is that the message sometimes gets garbled. So let’s start at the beginning. Ogino and his colleagues look at the environmental impacts of Japanese beef production and report that:

…defining the retail beef yield percentage as 40%, the environmental impacts per kilogram of beef of all beef production, including both the cow–calf and the fattening system, was 36.4 kg of CO2 equivalents in global warming…

They also noted that Japanese beef production had a larger per kilogram impact than that reported for Swedish beef production. Studies from the United States also reported lower per kilogram impacts — something Ogino had noted in an earlier article.

In New Scientist, Fanelli reports the Japanese results and adds some data and calculations of her own. "In other words," she writes, "a kilogram of beef is responsible for the equivalent of the amount of CO2 emitted by the average European car every 250 kilometres…"

Acknowledging that the findings are about Japanese beef, Goodall reports them this way:

The new research, carried out in Japan but surely representative of the impact of modern farming methods in the rest of the industrial world, suggests that one kilogramme of meat creates the equivalent of over 36kg of global warming gases.

Goodall finds some data on how much energy it takes a person to walk for 3 miles does some arithmetic of his own. He concludes that "if one replaces the energy lost with beef" and there were two of you sharing the car then "walking would be eight times as bad for the climate."

By the time Duffy gets hold of the argument Japanese beef has become ‘meat’. And there’s a problem with this — a real problem not just a quibble. One of the reasons beef has such an adverse effect is because cattle are ruminants and ruminants emit far larger quantities of methane than non-ruminant animals like chickens. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas — 21 times more powerful at warming the atmosphere than carbon dioxide (CO2) by weight. Much of the impact of beef production on greenhouse gas emissions comes from the methane cows belch and fart into the atmosphere.

The walking-versus-driving factoid relies on the assumption that your post-walk snack will be 100% beef. But what if it were something else– perhaps a chicken sandwich? According to a Canadian Government publication: "Nonruminant animals, such as pigs and poultry, also emit some CH4 [methane] during digestion, but the amounts released are almost negligible by comparison" (pdf). And what about a salad sandwich? In the end, it’s hard to be sure about whether walking or driving is better. The important message from the research is that what we eat matters. Some foods are more environmentally damaging than others.

If you really want to know whether you should walk, cycle, catch the bus or drive to the shops then you’ll have to do the research and the math yourself. You might as well ask whether it’s more environmentally friendly to read papers on line or walk down to the shops and buy a hard copy to read while you eat a hamburger. In any case, I’m just a blogger passing endless comment on other people’s work. I’m not here to add to society’s pool of knowledge. And neither, it seems, is Michael Duffy.


More:

Walking to the shops ‘damages planet more than going by car’
Dominic Kennedy in The Times

Food production is now so energy-intensive that more carbon is emitted providing a person with enough calories to walk to the shops than a car would emit over the same distance. The climate could benefit if people avoided exercise, ate less and became couch potatoes. Provided, of course, they remembered to switch off the TV rather than leaving it on standby.

Honk if you want to stop global warming
Andrew Leonard in Salon

Let’s put aside the increasingly popular parlor game in which we drive ourselves insane by attempting to calculate, down to the last calorie, gram of carbon dioxide, and milliliter of crude oil, exactly what consumer lifestyle serves the health of the planet best. Let’s consider Goodall’s strategy purely on the question of tactics. Let’s suppose that Goodall is aiming for more than merely raising the profile of his book. Suppose he actually wants to make the world a better place. What’s the global public relations takeaway from how he’s framing his message?

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melaleuca
14 years ago

And of course the Libertarian bug scientist and professional twit Jen Marohasy also gets in on the act: http://www.jennifermarohasy.com/blog/archives/002210.html

Ken Lovell
14 years ago

Your point about so much MSM content being opinion is perfectly correct, with ‘interpretation’ now running side-by-side with what purports to be ‘news’. The latter, of course, frequently consists of nothing more than recorded opinions (“Mr Howard said … the opposiiton leader responded …”)

Some bloggers have more time, resources and expertise to write informed opinion about particular issues than do the expert-on-everything pundits who infest newspapers. Who can forget Paul Sheehan’s evangelistic embrace of the magical properties of Unique Water?

Apart from that, the vast majority of ‘news’ reports are based on agency feeds like Reuters that are also available to bloggers. Once again, a blogger who gets interested in an issue will often spend time tracking down a number of agency stories and put together a much more informative contribution than a newspaper article that regurgitates one agency piece full of allusions to unnamed officials and people who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Bloggers immediately jump on the MSM when it peddles transparent bullshit, such as the fabricated rubbish published to discredit Haneef Mahomed. If and when the MSM starts to apply this process of basic critical evaluation to its own material BEFORE publication, it might be in a position to claim the high ground from bloggers.

Don Arthur
Don Arthur
14 years ago

Bird – Yes, Duffy has his tongue in his cheek. Like Scruton he’s not so interested in whether this or that choice harms or helps the environment. The real point is the absurdity of following every bit of environmental advice offered by people like Goodall.

http://www.newstatesman.com/200704300044

And my point is the absurdity of thinking that newspapers are engaged in some earnest process of gathering and distributing facts.

Like bloggers, newspaper columnists often spread unreliable factoids just because they’re amusing. I doubt that there was a sudden surge in car use in response to Duffy’s piece.

Nana Levu
Nana Levu
14 years ago

Idiocracy on water

Daniel
14 years ago

Well, as someone who, in a small way, raises cattle for beef consumption, I am intrigued by this post. Sounds as though the person who came up with the theory has shares in oil, coal and the vehicle industry and is wanting to deflect attention away from their massive polluting qualities. Either that or he smokes funny cigarettes! I think it’s a whole lot of bull!

Besides, consider how much methane gas six billion humans excrete each day. Time to get rid of them I reckon!

Don Arthur
Don Arthur
14 years ago

Ken – I think you’re right, a lot of news is just attributed opinion. The journalist isn’t saying that this or that is true, only that a particular person said it is true.

And a lot of the time nobody cares whether the opinion is right or not. For example, if a journalist reported Peter Costello saying that the war in Iraq was a mistake the quote would be news. You wouldn’t check to see whether the war really was a mistake, you’d check to see whether Costello really said it was.

It’s a game that has rules and journalists are careful to play by them. There’s a certain amount of quality control. But if blogging has rules journalists aren’t sure what they are. Are bloggers sources? Are they reporters? Are they commentators? How do you tell the difference between people you can trust and those you can’t? Who’s filtering it?

It’s all very disturbing and some journalists wish it would all go away.

Of course it’s ridiculous to think that amateur blogging can replace newspapers is ridiculous.

Don Arthur
Don Arthur
14 years ago

Daniel – The person you’re looking for runs an airline.

http://environment.independent.co.uk/climate_change/article1961429.ece

Michael O’Leary of Ryanair has a keen interest in scientific work on cattle and climate change.

David Rubie
David Rubie
14 years ago

(Full disclosure: Meat and Livestock Australia is my employer).

The beef and lamb production industries are well aware of the impact of methane and the amount being produced by our herds during the production process. They are funding research directly to address the problem. For example:

A range of detailed research projects are investigating the ability of digestive microbial
populations transferred from kangaroos and innovative supplementary additives to increase
the efficiency of rumen digestion in cattle. Outcomes from this work have the potential to
significantly increase rumen microbial production, improve fibre digestion, reduce methane
emissions and improve the efficiency of liveweight gain in cattle.

When the animals are producing methane, they are not producing meat, so getting rid of it is a win-win for everybody (this is just one of the research initiatives).

See here for more

Jason Soon
14 years ago

It’s ridiculous the lengths to which these carbon counters are going to. Are they basically encouraging obesity now?

David Collett
David Collett
14 years ago

I think your post was intelligent Don so well done. It would be much easier to form clear independant opinions if news was A) the source B) the reporters ‘opinion’ of its meaning. Then we wouldnt feel like sheep suckling on the system.

Gianna
14 years ago

nice to see Duffy hopping on the green bandwagon, lol.

i too found it absolutely ludicrous to suggest that people who drive don’t eat as much meat as walkers. come on. “drive thru macdonalds”, anyone? of course if people were supposed to ditch their car and walk forty kilometres to work they might need a few steaks for morning tea, but walking short distances hardly requires the same fuel, gimme a break. the real problem is how our world is designed around car use.

i agreed with him about the plastic bottles (though oddly enough he doesn’t mention the way San Francisco has led the world in banning them recently) but why should it be limited to water–there are too many plastic bottles and plastic inserts in everything–duh, the hippies were right and we need to look at everything we buy in terms of production processes involved to make it; manpower, machine power, oil. every extra packaging insert needed oil to make it. if we want to keep enjoying all this magnificient capitalism we obviously need to be far more intelligent consumers. recycling just ain’t enough.
anyway, if the bottled water market dries up and people stop buying water trucked down from the mountains and drink reservoir water like us, we’ll all have to drink poo sooner, won’t we?

about the blog/msm debate, when you read the Keen excerpt you see it really all boils down to certain newspapers’ flagging circulation and the need for them to adapt or die, ie go online successfully. turning on blogs is a red herring since we are not genuinely competition. after all, we are self-referential egocasters! we don’t break news and we certainly don’t compete with them for revenue. making money from web advertising and subscription models must be a tough business but geez, don’t blame bloggers for people not buying as many print papers as before. simple fact is, the real competition is other online newspapers with free content.

amphibious
amphibious
14 years ago

DRUBIE,Meat & Livestock – Dinosaur farts sustained their methane rich verdant swampland, macropod burps are miniscule (and mostly co2) because of the lack of free H2O in their normal diet – have a good look at ‘roo scat when the grass is rank & green.
So the simple solution (to a non-problem) if ya gotta rend red meat with your vestigal canines and shell shredding bicuspids, we got plebnty of ‘roos. Eliminate ovis & bovis and we’d have a huge export market with health conscious and (currently) rich euroids, and knock several inches of (y)our waistlines.

Niall
14 years ago

Gee Whizz…..I eat beef and tend to belch and fart an average amount. Should I go for a walk to offset my carbon contributions, or will walking make me hungrier?

Really nice piece, Don. Well done! Cop that Michael Duffy and the rest of you so-called main stream commentariat.

David Rubie
David Rubie
14 years ago

amphibious,

There are plenty of farmers out there who would turn off their sheep and farm kangaroos if it were even slightly plausible. There are some issues:

1) They don’t herd properly – they do not stick together like cattle or sheep.
2) They jump over stuff like fences. Even big fences.
3) They are nearly impossible to transport live, so must be killed on farm. When you try to live transport them, they injure each other.
4) There are no overseas markets for them.
5) There are precious few markets for them here outside boutique sausages and dog food.
6) They take forever to gestate which is fabulous in the wild but useless when you’re trying to build a proper business.

We’re good at cattle and sheep. In fact, we’re probably the best in the world when you take into account food security issues like disease. You don’t have to eat it, the rest of us can still enjoy it and the massive benefits the industry brings.

amphibious
amphibious
14 years ago

DRubie – Everytime we see on TV some whining cockie complaining about drought (hoo’da thort, in Oz?)look in the background and there’ll be macropods happily bouncing around and probably adding to said cockie’s perplexity.
As to your post
1) “don’t herd” – that must be why we call them mobs,
2) “jump over ..fences” – paradigm problem, they congregate, at water & feed,
3) “kill on farm” – this is a problem?
4) “no o/s market” – euroids will pay huge premiums for free range venison, it’s called niche marketing, needs a little development but they’ve been trying to beg, borrow or steal ‘roo meat for decades
5)see above
6)”forever to gestate”?!? They can carry one in utero, one in pouch and have one at foot.

Were good at cattle and sheep… probably the best in the world

that must be why we’re constantly rescuing the ovis & bovis industries due to climate and ‘culling’ ‘roos.
How blind do you need to be to reality to say a thing like that? APART from the damage they do to our unique soils, they are utterly unsuited to this continent, odd that, considering their origins.
When the Western Division of NSW was first settled in the mid 1800s it needed 10 acres per sheep, today it needs 25 and risen, a couple of hundred per DCE.
This is like the old saw in Ireland, ” the son was flailing in the byre and kept banging his knuckles on the rafters. He didn’t move coz this was were my father stood and his father before him…”

Nabakov
Nabakov
14 years ago

“boutique sausages”

You say that like it’s a bad thing.

As Amphib points above in response 4 – there’s some great value adding opportunities for roo meat in os markets.

Bit of nifty processing and packaging, a clever marketing campaign (eg: Natural! Free Range! Healthy! Exotic! Exclusive!) a la King Island diary products and we could be adding a 3000% markup to protein that otherwise ends up as a blot on suburban green strips.

David Rubie
David Rubie
14 years ago

The handling and slaughter issues here are being seriously underestimated. I guess we could change the paradigm for herding them – maybe put a billabong on the back of your ute so they congregate around it and drive slowly forward?

As for transport issues and on farm slaughter – it’s a serious problem for food security. You just don’t know how long the animal has been hanging on the side of a Landcruiser (is it one day? two days?) before ending up in a fridge. Eating quality is determined in a huge way by the way the animals are slaughtered. Ethical treatment of livestock is becoming a huge issue that the industry is facing up to, which would be multiplied trying to harvest what is essentially a wild animal. Sheep and cows have been domesticated for millenia and their temperament is reflected in that.

The boutique markets for roo meat should be pursued Nabakov, I agree – the mass processing issues are not so difficult to overcome, but wholesale replacement of sheep and cows with Kangaroo is a pipe dream without massive pull coming from consumers.

amphibious – stocking rates have declined partly because we know a lot better through research than we used to. The industry is striving toward sustainability based on research, not eyeballing roos in the background of TV pictures. Truth be told, we’d probably be better off harvesting goats (and they do at Charleville for example), but the big international markets are for beef (lamb less so). No point telling the customers what they want, that’s their job.

FDB
FDB
14 years ago

“No point telling the customers what they want, thats their job.”

I take you don’t work for the Marketing Department of Meat & Livestock.

Kangaroo is woefully marketed, from advertising through to supply chains. At trendy inner supermarkets here in Melbourne it’s delivered weekly and gone (apart from the supposedly value-added marinated ones which, being your basic hamfisted honey soy or herb & garlic, do not appeal to DIYers) by 3 days after delivery. Elsewhere it sits there until it goes off because people haven’t tried it and have no idea how easy and delicious it is.

Haven’t TRIED it!!! I’ve yet to see an advertisement for kangaroo beyond the little tags in the fridge section.

Hang on, maybe you DO work for the Marketing Department! ;)

David Rubie
David Rubie
14 years ago

No, I don’t work in the marketing department.

FDB wrote:

Kangaroo is woefully marketed

.
The situation you described isn’t poor marketing, it’s poor product. If you can’t reliably supply what you are trying to sell, the public won’t bother looking for it unless they’ve got a special reason to.

I’m sure MLA would love to collect a per-head levy for each kangaroo if it was organised (that’s what they do with sheep and cattle). Marketing funds generally come out of there as I understand it.

I used to see a bit of ‘roo in the supermarket when I lived in Sydney, but out here in Armidale it’s regarded (like rabbit) as dog food rather than than people food. I doubt that even if the supermarket stocked it there would be many takers. Personally I’m a bit mixed on eating it, I’ve had some nice roo and some absolutely awful, gamey rubbish I was convinced was dressed up roadkill. The other meats aren’t perfect, but they are more consistent. Cattle and sheep are generally slaughtered young-ish, selectivity which is hard to do at midnight off the back of a ute with a spotlight.

I’ve no doubt that most of these problems are solvable, but who is going to put in the effort?

Just Me
Just Me
14 years ago

boutique sausages

I see roo meat in my local non-boutique butcher all the time, and sometimes at my local Coles, neither place present it a “boutique” product.

I have tried roo meat many times, and the main problem with it is the lack of taste consistency. Sometimes it is very good, but sometimes it is very gamey and (to my palate) inedible. If the taste consistency was solved, I would buy roo meat every time. It is much healthier for you than ovis/bovis meat, and a lot cheaper too.

There are other native possibilities, such as croc meat, which is also very healthy, and crocs are much more amenable to farming than roos, (apart from that nasty biting behaviour, of course). I hear emus are both good eating and fairly easy to manage as well.

I think the problems with farming roos are as much a lack of practice and understanding and appropriate techniques, as any intrinsic insurmountable difficulties.

Don Arthur
Don Arthur
14 years ago

From what I’ve heard, the marketing people have been doing pretty well in the Russian Far East:

Kangaroo meat hops into Russian market

Another important area of opportunity is kangaroo meat. Russia is the major market for Australias kangaroo meat exports and demand continues to grow. The bulk of this unique meat goes to the Russian Far East, where its popularity is growing. Many meat-processing plants in the Russian Far East have developed technical conditions and recipes specifically for kangaroo meat.

To maintain and further expand kangaroo meat promotion, Austrade conducted a number of successful seminars in conjunction with Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA) and local importers in the Russian Far East regions of Kamchatka, Khabarovsk and Vladivostok. These seminars targeted meat processors, veterinary officers, technologists and local media.

Currently Austrade is assisting kangaroo exporters to expand their business into European Russia through presentations, sampling and certification with relevant Russian authorities.

Just Me
Just Me
14 years ago

Makes sense, those dirty commies taking a liking to our big reds!