Research reveals a lot of hot air about livestock contributions to greenhouse gas emissions
Here’s some shocking news for you in rural America: Cows and pigs are not contributing all that much to greenhouse gas emissions as a result of their emissions – from either end.
That’s the finding of research conducted by a University of California, Davis animal science associate professor and extension specialist in air quality. Frank Mitloehner earned undergraduate and graduate degrees in Germany before coming to Texas Tech University, where he earned a doctorate. He’s been at UC Davis since 2002.
Mitloehner’s research documented a rather large flaw in a 2006 United Nations report about greenhouse gas emissions from livestock operations. When the Center for Consumer Freedom in Washington released his research, it didn’t take long for a U.N. official to say “oops.” The CCF is a nonprofit coalition supported by restaurants, food companies and consumers. It works to promote personal responsibility and protect consumer choices.
The day after the document was released, CCF said the BBC reported that one of the authors of “Livestock’s Long Shadow,” Pierre Gerber, said he accepted Mitloehner’s findings. Gerber is a policy officer with the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization.
Mitloehner found the U.N.’s analysis of global transportation emissions was not as detailed as its review of meat production, creating what he called an apples-to-oranges comparison.
“I must say honestly that he has a point – we factored in everything for meat emissions, and we didn’t do the same thing with transport,” Gerber was quoted by the BBC.
Mitloehner does not think curtailing livestock reduction wouldn’t make a difference in global warming; he just thinks it would be an insignificant difference and that there are far more effective ways to reduce emissions.
Kind of makes one wonder what else the study did or did not review closely, as well as its intent.
Once the U.N. report was released, groups such as PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals), HSUS (The Humane Society of the United States) and other acronym-happy organizations jumped on the bandwagon, blaming U.S. livestock production for ruining the environment. Those organizations and their activist supporters touted “Meatless Mondays” as a way to cut down on emissions in the U.S. – like that would make a major, or any, difference in the first place.
The CCF, in a prepared statement, said comparing emissions from livestock operations with those from transportation are unrealistic and unfair. It said it looked forward to reading the U.N.’s retracted and revised global estimates and that it would continue to spread the word that, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, shows the U.S. livestock industry accounts for less than 3 percent of total emissions.
Since the U.N. report, claims have been made that those emissions were as high as 18 percent, or higher than all the cars, trucks, trains and planes in the world – combined.
Mitloehner, in a telephone conservation, emphasized he seeks an unbiased approach when researching animal emissions. Many reports, he said, lack the details of his research, which is important given the fact he is associated with the largest animal science department of any U.S. university. That department has in excess of 40 faculty members, an undergraduate enrollment of more than 800 and a graduate enrollment of about 150.
A press release issued by UC Davis noted that Mitloehner’s report “was supported by a $26,000 research grant from the Beef Checkoff Program, which funds research and other activities, including promotion and consumer education, through fees on beef producers in the U.S. Since 2002, Mitloehner has received $5 million in research funding, with 5 percent of the total from agricultural commodities groups, such as beef producers.”
Mitloehner said he became interested in air quality work while at Texas Tech, but his work with animals and the environment goes back to his home village in Germany.
That village of about 1,000 people, including his parents, is not dependent on power and other needs from outside sources, but instead uses animal and human waste, green clippings and food waste, which is turned into a bio-gas in a large digester. That gas is used to produce the power needs of the village and the heat from burning that gas produces hot water that is piped to homes, which use it for heating purposes.
“It is completely off the grid and, in my view, that is the direction all of us will need to look in the future,” he said.
Bill Jackson has covered agriculture in northern Colorado for more than 30 years. His column runs every other Sunday in the Greeley Tribune. If you have ideas for this column, call him at (970) 392-4442.
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