Fewer greenhouse gases is an additional perk
By Trent Loos
Yes, I will be the first one to admit that in 2006 when the United Nation’s Food and Agricultural Organization released its report on the role of livestock in greenhouse gas production, I was very critical. I still stand by my statement that climate change is the largest man-made hoax the world has ever seen. But here is the bad news: It doesn’t matter if it’s true or not, it is affecting food production policies and we need to be involved in the mix.
About a month ago the FAO released another report indicating that the livestock sector plays an important role in climate change. It is estimated to emit 7.1 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent per annum, representing 14.5 percent of all human-induced emissions.
Since the report was released, an analysis of the media reports has been interesting. Mainstream media has jumped all over it, stating that eating meat and drinking milk is causing climate change. My friends in the ag media have all responded in a very defensive manner, as you might expect.
But herein lies the problem: I don’t believe that one single person reporting on the story has actually read the report as I have. The report clearly states:
“A 30 percent reduction of GHG emissions would be possible, for example, if producers in a given system, region and climate adopted the technologies and practice currently used by the 10 percent of producers with the lowest emission intensity.
“There is a direct link between GHG emission intensities and the efficiency with which producers use natural resources.
“Mitigation solutions will vary across the sector as emission sources, intensities and levels vary amongst species, production systems and regions, but the mitigation potential can be achieved within existing systems; this means that the potential can be achieved as a result of improving practices rather than changing production systems (i.e., shifting from grazing to mixed or from backyard to industrial).”
It was Frank Mitloehner, Ph.D., of the University of California-Davis who encouraged me to actually read the entire report. He reminded me that in the United States, only 3.4 percent of the GHGs come from livestock production compared to countries like Ethiopia where 90 percent of the GHGs come from livestock production.
Yes, the United Nations FAO is closer than ever to actually stating that the intensification of livestock production is the most efficient manner possible to manage these resources.
By being on the defense about the report, we are quite simply missing a great opportunity to educate the world that a reduction in GHG emissions is directly tied to the implementation of production efficiencies. This report states this repeatedly.
When you really get in and break down what this report is saying, “intensification” (perhaps a more acceptable term than confinement) creates the efficiencies in production that the world desires. Pork and poultry production globally have the lowest impact on GHG emissions.
Beef and dairy cattle are the largest contributors because of the ruminant’s ability to convert cellulose material into milk and meat. The story here again is the more efficient we can make the cow, the better off we will all be. Additionally, if the ruminant animal does not graze of a portion of the cellulosic material, the resulting fires from overgrowth will have an even great negative impact on GHGs emissions.
In closing, whether you and I like the discussion involving livestock’s contribution to greenhouse gases or not, it is happening. We have science on our side to prove that the best method of feeding the world is with the U.S. model of intensification, driven by production efficiencies. The fact that we emit even fewer GHGs is just an additional perk our green friends should learn to appreciate.
Editor’s note: Trent Loos is a sixth generation United States farmer, host of the daily radio show, Loos Tales, and founder of Faces of Agriculture, a non-profit organization putting the human element back into the production of food. Get more information at www.FacesOfAg.com, or email Trent at firstname.lastname@example.org.