According to the National Beef Association (NBA), the main lobbying organization for the British beef industry, the longer a cow lives, the more carbon emissions they are responsible for, as cows become less efficient at turning food into saleable meat with age.
The NBA has proposed a solution to this problem: kill cows when they are younger—at 27 months instead of the current 30 months typical in the UK—and put a carbon tax on older animals.
To date, this appears to be the only climate action that the NBA has suggested for the British beef industry. And it comes despite the agricultural sector contributing 10 percent of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions at last count, the majority of which comes in the form of methane from livestock, particularly cattle. But some farmers believe the proposal may do more harm than good and could even undermine the one type of cattle farming with potential climate benefits.
“My take on it is that this is bad science,” says Chris Jones, an organic farmer in Cornwall who rears cows for regenerative agriculture, the style of farming promoted in the recent Netflix documentary Kiss the Ground as a major tool in fighting the climate crisis. “It is complete carbon illiteracy and it’s complete ecological illiteracy. If we’re keeping [cows] on a grass-based system, where they are grazing on the product of perennial grassland, then the carbon that is sequestered through soil is greater than any methane effect coming