Don’t blame cows for climate change

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Despite oft-repeated claims by sources ranging from the United Nations to music star Paul McCartney, it is simply not true that consuming less meat and dairy products will help stop climate change, says a University of California authority on farming and greenhouse gases.

UC Davis Associate Professor and Air Quality Specialist Frank Mitloehner says that McCartney and the chair of the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change ignored science last week when they launched a European campaign called "Less Meat = Less Heat." The launch came on the eve of a major international climate summit, which runs Dec. 7 through Dec. 18 in Copenhagen.

McCartney and others, such as the promoters of "meatless Mondays," seem to be well-intentioned but not well-schooled in the complex relationships among human activities, animal digestion, food production and atmospheric chemistry, says Mitloehner.

"Smarter animal farming, not less farming, will equal less heat," Mitloehner said. "Producing less meat and milk will only mean more hunger in poor countries."

Mitloehner traces much of the public confusion over meat and milk's role in climate change to two sentences in a 2006 United Nations report, titled "Livestock's Long Shadow." Printed only in the report's executive summary and nowhere in the body of the report, the sentences read: "The livestock sector is a major player, responsible for 18 percent of greenhouse gas emissions measured in CO2e (carbon dioxide equivalents). This is a higher share than transport."

These statements are not accurate, yet their wide distribution through news media have put us on the wrong path toward solutions, Mitloehner says.

"We certainly can reduce our greenhouse-gas production, but not by consuming less meat and milk.

"Rather, in developed countries, we should focus on cutting our use of oil and coal for electricity, heating and vehicle fuels."

Mitloehner said leading authorities agree that, in the U.S., raising cattle and pigs for food accounts for about 3 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions, while transportation creates an estimated 26 percent.

"In developing countries, we should adopt more efficient, Western-style farming practices, to make more food with less greenhouse gas production," Mitloehner continued. In this he agrees with the conclusion of "Livestock's Long Shadow," which calls for "replacing current suboptimal production with advanced production methods -- at every step from feed production, through livestock production and processing, to distribution and marketing."

"The developed world's efforts should focus not on reducing meat and milk consumption," said Mitloehner, "but rather on increasing efficient meat production in developing countries, where growing populations need more nutritious food."

Source: University of California-Davis

I had heard the U.N. claim that animal agriculture is responsible for 18 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions. Then, upon further review, I found that 18 percent is a world figure, not a U.S. figure. Most countries do not have the efficiencies built into their production systems that we have in the U.S.  Due to higher degrees of technology and efficiency, the U.S. figure is much lower. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has stated that 6 percent of the greenhouse gas emissions in this country are from agriculture. And, when you look at just animal agriculture, the figure is 3.4 percent.  It goes to show how the deck can be stacked a certain way by environmental activists.  – Tom Quaife, editor



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