Greenpeace Has a Black Message

Greenpeace advocates reducing global meat and dairy production. ( Greenpeace )

COMMENTARY – If Greenpeace had its way, global livestock production would mostly end tomorrow. We know this because of the organization’s latest 45-page summary of a plan to save the world from cowboys, gauchos, sheepherders and other vermin on its list.

Less is More: Reducing Meat and Dairy for a Healthier Life and Planet,” is what Greenpeace calls their “vision of the meat and dairy system towards 2050.” Never mind the plan is impractical and based on some questionable science.

“The need to reduce demand for livestock products,” writes Pete Smith, in an introductory column for the Greenpeace report, “is now a scientifically mainstream view.”

Ummm…No, Pete, it’s the view of people searching for an environmental bogeyman and who continue to use flawed data to target livestock. It’s also a narrow view of global livestock production that fails to distinguish between various production systems. Not to mention, a lot of people would go hungry if not for livestock.

Just to recap, Greenpeace’s new report warns that agriculture will produce 52% of global greenhouse gas emissions in the coming decades, 70% of that from livestock. Greenpeace calls for a 50% reduction of meat and dairy coupled with an increase of plant-based proteins by 2050.

Wait, there’s more. Greenpeace wants governments to end policies that support large-scale meat and dairy and help farmers shift towards ecological methods of growing crops and raising an amount of livestock the planet can sustain. In other words, let’s back up 150 years, raise heirloom tomatoes and farm with mules.

Modern farming is so bad, Greenpeace says, since 1970 the world has lost half of its wildlife but tripled its livestock population, which Greenpeace says now occupies 26% of land on earth. Maybe, but no mention is made of how much of the space occupied by livestock wouldn’t support any other kind of food production, like the western ranges of the U.S. that receive less than 12 inches of rainfall annually.

You have every right to be skeptical of the statistics Greenpeace uses in its argument. Especially in light of the fact fuzzy data helped fuel skewed views about livestock. The home of the original livestock whopper was the 2006 United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) report, “Livestock’s Long Shadow,” which claimed livestock were responsible for 18% of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions measured in carbon dioxide equivalents. That number, FAO said, was greater than the share for transport, in essence claiming that livestock produced more GHG emissions than all the world’s automobiles.

That was crapola. And after some scientific folks reviewed the research they found errors that even the authors of the FAO report said needed correcting. Too late. The environmental activists had their tool to inflict damage and sow doubt about livestock.

Here’s data Greenpeace won’t tell you. According to the U.N. FAO, methane emissions from beef cattle in the U.S. have decreased 34% since 1975. U.S. beef producers have also become more efficient, now producing the same amount of total pounds as they did in 1975, with one-third fewer cows.

Much of that efficiency is due to the fact Americans like their beef corn-fed, which, surprising to some, actually reduces methane emissions. Cattle fed grain-based diets produce less methane than those eating higher forage diets.

American beef is not totally grain-fed, of course, but even the pasture or forage component of beef production provides benefits – cattle eat grass and other forages humans can’t digest, converting them into protein foods. And, the long byproduct list includes soap, crayons, cosmetics, paints, surgical sutures, etc.

Every activity – whether it’s food production or ice hockey – has an environmental footprint. A blanket-ban on livestock production is not a solution to climate change or a viable alternative to feeding the world’s growing population.

Greenpeace states, “What food we eat, how much, and how that food is grown, is key to the survival of our planet.” On that point we can agree, but we also believe properly managed livestock production remains a critical component of feeding and sustaining the planet.   



Restricted HTML

  • Allowed HTML tags: <em> <strong> <cite> <blockquote cite> <ul type> <ol start type> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd> <h2 id> <h3 id> <h4 id>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
  • Web page addresses and email addresses turn into links automatically.
7 + 1 =
Solve this simple math problem and enter the result. E.g. for 1+3, enter 4.
Submitted by Anne on Wed, 03/07/2018 - 15:26

You seem upset.

Submitted by Alex Savage on Thu, 03/08/2018 - 13:14

Greenpeace have no commercial interest in livestock production unlike yourselves. Their message is based on the common interest of the planet's ability to sustain all life.

The environmental impact of livestock furthermore is not limited to it's ghg emissions which are predicted to increase by 85% by 2050.

Deforestation: 91% of all Amazon deforestation can be linked directly to livestock production, either grazing land or growing their feed. Queensland, Australia is now clearing land at a similar rate for agribusiness expansion.

Ocean dead zones: Livestock operations on land have produced more than 500 nitrogen flooded dead zones in oceans around the world.

Food supply: You suggest livestock are converting food humans couldn't eat while also lauding grain as an envirnmentally friendly cattle feed. Farming animals for food is an incredibly inefficient way to feed a growing human population. We're currently growing enough food to feed 10 billion people yet millions die of starvation every day. Instead we use 50% of all grain produced to feed cows.

Water: 5% of water use in the US is from private homes, 55% is used by animal agriculture. It takes 2500 gallons of water to produce 1 pound of beef, 1000 gallons of water to produce 1 gallon of milk.

Land use: You suggest that livestock occupy land that couldn't be used for anything else, but the aforementioned deforestation aside, it requires 18 x less land to support a plant based diet than one that includes meat, eggs and dairy.

Your view is self serving and shortsighted. Livestock production is unsustainable. With a growing population all of the impacts of livestock production will only get worse. Farmers are essential but they must take on board these growing concerns and adapt their businesses to what people will ultimately choose to buy or they will fail. Your article encourages farmers not to change, to instead doubt the mounting scientific data that is informing the choices of their customer base.

Submitted by Whitney Almaraz on Fri, 03/09/2018 - 04:34

An 85% increase? Based on what? Emissions have continued to decrease substantially in the last several decades.

Livestock aren't responsible for human starvation. We have a terrible food distribution issue and many people cannot afford food that is plentiful. Which is why the US throws 40+% of edible food in the garbage while people in Haiti eat cookies made of dirt. And what about the 35% of corn that goes toward ethanol? I've yet to hear any environmentalist rail against that.

I'd really like to see some citations on those environmental numbers.

In reply to by Alex Savage (not verified)

Submitted by Alex Savage on Sat, 03/10/2018 - 05:31

Correction *80% increase.
Tilman & Clark - Global diets link environmental
sustainability and human health 2014:
"Rising incomes and urbanization are driving a global dietary transition in
which traditional diets are replaced by diets higher in refined sugars, refined fats, oils and meats. By 2050 these dietary
trends, if unchecked, would be a major contributor to an estimated 80 per cent increase in global agricultural greenhouse
gas emissions from food production and to global land clearing. "

While emissions of individual animals may be reduced or controlled with different diets, the ever increasing global herd and the continued removal of carbon storing forests to support them would ultimately lead to a net increase in emissions.

55% of US water use:
Jacobson, Michael F. “Six Arguments For a Greener Diet: How a More Plant-based Diet Could Save Your Health and the Environment. Chapter 4: More and Cleaner Water”. Washington, DC: Center for Science in the Public Interest, 2006.

Ocean dead zones:

And finally starvation, food production and distribution:

"82% of starving children live in countries where food is fed to animals, and the animals are eaten by western countries."

Oppenlander, Dr. Richard. "The World Hunger-Food Choice Connection: A Summary". Comfortably Unaware Blog. August 2012…

"Improving Child Nutrition: The achievable imperative for global progress". UNICEF. April 2013

"Global livestock production systems". Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Rome 2011

In reply to by Whitney Almaraz (not verified)