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Review of the impacts of red meat production and alternative sources of protein on biodiversity

The beef and sheep industries in Australia have been critical in the development and shaping of Australia from the time of the First Fleet. They have played a significant role in the economic fortunes of the nation in the past and continue to make a major contribution, particularly in the export market. They have also played an important role in the psyche of Australia and in defining the character of the Australian ‘outback’ culture, as well as helping shape the typical Australian diet. The Australian meat and lamb industries continue to grow on increasing demand domestically and internationally for red-meat. National dietary guidelines indicate that 3-4 serves of lean red meat a week can provide easily digestible and high quality protein, as well as a range of important and accessible nutrients such as iron, zinc and Vitamin B12.

In addition to being an important economic and cultural force, the beef and sheep industries have left a lasting impact on the biodiversity of Australia. This ranges from the direct impacts of land clearing for conversion to exotic pastures, overgrazing (particularly in drought conditions) and trampling to indirect impacts such as the introduction of environmental weeds, changes to fire regimes, altered hydrological flows and major impacts on soil (e.g. loss of soil and biological crusts, erosion, compaction). Because the grazing industry covers such a large area of Australia, these impacts are widespread and obvious to many.

The major protein alternatives to beef and sheep meat consumed in Australia are chicken, pork, eggs, dairy products and fish. Emerging industries include goats (mainly exports) and kangaroos, which currently contribute a small proportion to the economy. Each of these industries also impact on biodiversity, sometimes in similar and sometimes in very different ways to the red-meat industry.

Purpose of this study

Meat & Livestock Australia (MLA) has sought to gather the most accurate, scientifically robust information to establish the evidence base for its performance in respect to biodiversity management. This is to inform better land management, enlighten public debate and help shape future conservation programs. To meet these aims, this project is intended to:

  • Review the literature to establish the impacts – positive and negative, historical and current, direct and indirect – of the beef and sheep meat industries on Australia’s biodiversity (aquatic and terrestrial);
  • Identify any significant gaps in the literature as areas for further research;
  • As far as possible, compare the biodiversity impact of red meat production systems with other major alternative dietary protein production systems in Australia, and, in particular, industry approaches to conservation; and
  • Make recommendations for future investment and activity:


Title Size Date published
1.5MB 13/02/2012


Contract No. Title Start date End date Funding type
Review of the impacts of red meat production and it's competitors on biodiversity
08/04/2009 18/09/2009

This page was last updated on 06/07/2018

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