By 2030, every beef producer in Australia will ideally know their exact carbon footprint and be able to express it as a number.
The world's big beef buyers are going to come knocking for carbon offsets along with the animals they buy and will need numbers attached to kilograms that are accounted for under international rules.
This message was delivered by Ian McConnel, director of beef sustainability with global animal protein processor Tyson Foods, at a conference organised by the Droughtmaster Society held at the Royal Queensland Show in Brisbane on Friday.
Mr McConnel said ideally that 'carbon number' would be carried on national vendor declaration forms - industry-scale systems that bring through carbon neutrality claims were needed.
Tyson Foods, based in the United States, operates in 140 countries, processing 155,000 head of cattle a week, 850,000 pigs and 47 million chickens, along with 35,000 tonnes of food processing products for the food sector.
It's customers are worldwide, but Asia is particularly strong and growing.
While Tyson has branded product lines it sells into supermarkets, it also operates extensively in the commodity space.
In Australia, it owns a processing plant at Coominya in the Brisbane Valley, which moves around 100 tonnes of beef a day into patties - 90 per cent of which goes to fast food chain McDonald's.
"We probably buy a bit of every cow in Australia," Mr McConnel said.
"While there are initiatives we have in place to take claims to consumers, what we need is industry-scale change so the commodity product for us maintains a place in the market.
"Where that is most important is Europe, which is the only place where we are seeing a decline in beef consumption and it's generally due to consumer preferences around health and sustainability - it's not a cost issue, Europe is not a poor part of the world."
Mr McConnel, who formerly worked for the World Wildlife Fund, also serves as president for the Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef, which collectively represents 80pc of all beef traded around the world.
In this role, he has a seat at the table at global food system summits and says there is strong discussion about what a sustainable plate of food looks like.
"We are having to work very hard to ensure beef maintains its place in a sustainable diet," he said.
"I'll put it to you bluntly - not all beef can be on that plate; there is beef produced that would not meet the criteria any of us would consider sustainable.
"There are also products being sold with claims that are not true."
Tyson has set a target to reduce its carbon footprint by 30pc come 2030, and to be carbon neutral by 2050.
Many big companies have similar targets.
"As we head towards that we are going to come knocking here to find the beef that helps us achieve that goal," Mr McConnel said.
"If the numbers coming from your farms are accounted for under international rules, they will be numbers we can use to report.
"We are going to be paying for it and we'd rather pay cattle producers dollars per kilogram for carbon than compete with the likes of Shell and Exxon in a carbon market separate to our beef.
"The fancy term for that is insetting. We want to buy carbon off you as farmers when we buy our beef."
Mr McConnel said if every cattle farmer, not just leading farmers, knew their carbon number it would place Australia in a far better position to attract finance.
The finance sector was moving fast to reporting on its footprint, he said.
"Right now, access to finance is by far the biggest driver for sustainability," he said.
"We have not only ethical investors as shareholders wanting to feel good about giving us their money but companies buying our shares to get votes at our board table to ensure we set the targets they want to see.
"The good thing about that is it's pushing us in a direction towards meeting consumer trends.
"Our challenge, however, is finding an ability to communicate it to the consumer. We need to bring claims about beef from the producer to the consumer.
"Australia's traceability system, as yet, does not enable us to tell consumers anything that producers do and there is so much you're already doing that we need to be able to tell."
Tyson has just completed extensive research in the US that found the consumer was starting to fall out of favour with the term 'sustainable'.
Mr McConnel felt it was because they want specifics - numbers that verify claims. People were no longer buying into broad claims, he said.
"By far and away the highest 'willingness to pay' is a carbon claim," he said.
"Our new major consumer is the millennial. They know what the world's biggest problem is and they want to make choices that support decarbonising the economy."