Livestock and Climate Change: Fact or Faked?
By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, February 15, 2019
LANCASTER Pa. – “Our cows are the solution, not the problem,” said greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions expert and animal scientist Dr. Frank Mitloehner as he methodically went through GHG emissions research over the past 12 years as well as talking about dairy and livestock producers having the high ground for an essential role in sustainably feeding the world’s growing population.
He spoke in Pennsylvania recently on Livestock and Climate Change: Fact or Faked?
Dr. Mitloehner touched on the EAT Lancet Report (eatforum.org) released in January and the global EAT Forums that arrived in the U.S. the day before the Green New Deal was put forward as a resolution in Congress.
“EAT Lancet is full of inaccuracies, and we are working on exposing them one by one,” said Dr. Mitloehner, air quality specialist from the University of California, Davis.
In fact, Dr. Mitloehner said candidly that, “The EAT Lancet Report hasn’t a single leg to stand on, and ‘your special friends’ are beginning to feel the pressure now.”
The EAT Lancet Commission on Food, Planet and Health, is centered on a well-funded and pretty much anti-animal ideal about how to transform food and agriculture to “feed a future population of 10 billion people a healthy diet within planetary boundaries.”
EAT Lancet brought together more than 30 scientists, which were subsequently revealed to be mainly vegan researchers, to reach a scientific consensus that defines a healthy and sustainable diet. What they came up with is a plan to “transform the global food supply system” with a new dietary framework that is based on flawed GHG assessments — a more plant-based diet with drastic reductions in dairy and meat consumption by 2030. (1 1/4 ounces of meat per day of which only 1/4 ounce can be beef, the equivalent of one 8 ounce cup of milk a day and 1 1/2 eggs per week)
In fact, while Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasia-Cortez was in New York City last week telling schools to drop dairy for one meal a day, the 80 investor groups in EAT Lancet, representing $6.5 trillion last week called on the largest fast food companies, including McDonald’s and KFC, to set targets for cutting GHG emissions from meat and dairy supply chains.
Dr. Mitloehner is confident that he and other scientists will successfully challenge their benchmarks where dairy and livestock production are concerned and are showing how this move to replace dairy and meat nutrients with plant-based alternatives would use more of the earth’s limited land and water resources and result in increased GHG per unit of nutrition.
He also said that U.S. dairy and livestock producers will continue to improve, and their efforts to further increase their sustainability measures are key parts of the “cows as solution not problem” approach.
Some history was in order. In 2006, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) released a similar assessment of animal agriculture’s impact on climate change with their Livestock’s Long Shadow Report.
That report pegged animal agriculture’s GHG’s at 18% and stated livestock account for more GHG than the entire transportation sector.
Mitloehner said the process for this assessment was skewed, and when he publicly criticized it, suddenly he was getting calls from media around the world, and the FAO and report’s original authors refigured the GHG’s for animal agriculture with the revised numbers at 3.9% for animal agriculture (lower than the original report) and 26% for transportation (higher).
But even today, activists cite the original Long Shadow Report numbers, which requires constant rebuttal to get the corrected and real numbers in front of the public.
With EAT Lancet, here we go again.
“What happened with the Long Shadow Report is that they included the GHGs for the entire lifecycle approach for livestock from the soil to the mouth of the consumer, which included transportation,” said Mitloehner. “They did not use this approach for the transportation sector, which looked just at tail pipe emissions.”
Mitloehner credited the UN FAO for responding and retracting. This event led to the formation of a group of scientists collaborating on climate change, emissions, alternatives and solutions with a globally-accepted process for benchmarking the numbers. Mitloehner is part of this group.
“Your special friends (EAT Lancet and others) use the following trick: they use the retracted global livestock figure of 18% and apply that to U.S. animal agriculture,” said Mitloehner. This is a double-whammy.
In other words, not only are they using the retracted global figures, they are not giving U.S. producers credit for gains in efficiency far outshining even the real global numbers.
This means they are pegging U.S. animal agriculture at 15% vs. the real number of less than 4% because they have “conveniently forgotten the little detail that these figures have been disproven,” he said.
Think about what happens when dairy and other animal foods are substituted. The GHG, water use, soil micronutrients — everything changes. Land used for cattle forages does not easily convert to vegetable crops. Cattle feeds, largely forages, are grown and harvested in a way that sequesters carbon. There are so many pieces that are left out of the picture painted by those who seek to make cows the problem, when they are in fact the solution..
And as the world population has grown, U.S. dairy farmers, for example, have produced more milk and dairy products while lowering their carbon footprint by two-thirds between 1945 and today! That’s astonishing.
Take water use as another example, dairy farming accounts for 5.1% of the U.S. water draw. The use of water for cattle to drink and for washing the milking parlors and milking equipment combine to account for 0.2% of the U.S. water draw — that’s less than half of one percent of total U.S. water draw for all uses.
The remainder of that 5.1% water-draw attributed to dairy is mainly irrigation of forage crops and pasture. If those grasslands and hayfields are converted to grow plants for human consumption, more irrigation draw would be needed on those lands, particularly when factoring-in the high level of nutrition we get from animal protein in a balanced diet. (Whole milk for example is nutrient dense, containing 8 grams of complete protein per 8-ounce glass. This high-quality protein contains all 9 essential amino acids.)
Seeking environmental balance, there’s one inescapable conclusion when it comes to recycling nutrients in a world of finite resources: Plants need animals and animals need plants and we need them both!
Dr. Mitloehner also talked about the GHGs from food waste. This is where cattle shine too!
With 40% of all food produced in the U.S. and globally going to waste, he said the largest sector of waste is fruits and vegetables at 50%, while the dairy and meat sectors are at 20%.
“The fact is that waste in animal agriculture is far less than other food sectors,” he said, adding that food waste is a huge environmental problem and cattle actually are a model. They provide a solution .
“Nutrients that normally go to waste are fed to ruminant animals,” said Mitloehner, giving the example of 20% of food byproducts in California fed to cattle. “They have this fabulous digestive tract that allows them to upcycle nutrients that are nonedible for humans (both byproducts as well as forages and grasses on lands not suited for tilling).
“It drives me crazy that we are not telling this story of how our cattle are upcycling low quality feed sources to high quality nutrient dense foods,” he said, adding that the comparisons of dairy protein, for example, to plant-based alternatives do not give credit to milk and dairy having higher quality protein with twice the bioavailability in our diets.T