GHG expert speaks out: ‘Cows are solution, not problem’

Dr. Frank Mitloehner (@GHGGuru) speaks out : “Cows are the solution, not the problem.’ He is a GHG expert and professor at University of California, Davis. Photo by Sherry Bunting

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 during a Pennsylvania Dairy Summit breakout session on February 6 on Livestock and Climate Change: Fact or Faked?

Dr. Mitloehner touched on the EAT Lancet Report (eatforum.org) released last month and the global EAT Forums that arrived in the U.S. last week at the United Nations (UN) in New York City the day before his Summit presentation in Lancaster, Pennsylvania and 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 the damage was partially done. Even today, climate change 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.

Dr. Frank Mitloehner shows the U.S. GHG percentage for dairy (according to EPA) on the left as 2% of TOTAL GHG. Animal Ag accounts for 4% total and all of agriculture accounts for 9% (more recent figures have decreased all of these amounts via EPA). On the right, a slide showed the global GHG in 2017, and we can see how very small the amount is for agriculture with plant-based agriculture at 0.6% and Animal Ag 0.5%.

“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.

Dr. Mitloehner also talked about the GHGs from food waste. 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%.

“That’s still too much, but 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 one that cattle actually provide a solution for.

“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.

To be continued in a future edition.

A world without cattle?

By Sherry Bunting, published April 22 Register-Star (Greene Media)

A world without cattle would be no world at all.

GL45-Earth Day(Bunting).jpgThe health of the dairy and livestock economies are harbingers of the economic health of rural America … and of the planet itself. Here’s some food for thought as we celebrate Earth Day and as climate change discussions are in the news and as researchers increasingly uncover proof that dietary animal protein and fat are healthy for the planet and its people.

How many of us still believe the long refuted 2006 United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) report, which stated that 18 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions, worldwide, come from livestock, and mostly from cattle?

This number continues to show up in climate-change policy discussion even though it has been thoroughly refuted and dismissed by climate-change experts and biologists, worldwide.

A more complete 2006 study, by the top global-warming evaluators, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, stated that the greenhouse gas emissions from all of agriculture, worldwide, is just 10 to 12 percent. This includes not only livestock emissions, but also those from tractors, tillage, and production of petroleum based fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides.

Hence, the UN Environmental Program disputed the UN FAO assertion to state the percentage of emissions from total agriculture, worldwide, is just 11%, and that cattle — as a portion of that total — are responsible for a tiny percentage of that 11%. While cattle contribute a little over 2% of the methane gas via their digestive system as ruminants (like deer, elk, bison, antelope, sheep and goats), they also groom grasslands that cover over one-quarter of the Earth’s total land base, and in so doing, they facilitate removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to be tied up in renewable grazing plant material above and below the ground — just like forests do!

Think about this for a moment. The UN Environmental Program and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change are in agreement that cattle and other livestock are not the problem the anti-meat and anti-animal-ag folks would have us believe. In fact, they are in many ways a major solution.

Think about the fact that man’s most necessary endeavor on planet Earth — the ongoing production of food — comes from the agriculture sector that in total accounts for just 11 percent of emissions!

Why, then, are major environmental groups and anti-animal groups so fixated on agriculture, particularly animal agriculture, when it comes to telling consumers to eat less meat and dairy as a beneficial way to help the planet? Why, then, has the U.S. Dietary Guidelines Council pushed that agenda in its preliminary report to the U.S. Departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services, that somehow the Earth will be better sustained if we eat less meat?

They ignore the sound science of the benefits livestock provide to the Earth. In fact, it is no exaggeration to say what Nicolette Niman has written in her widely acclaimed book “Defending Beef” that, “Cattle are necessary to the restoration and future health of the planet and its people.”

Niman is a trained biologist and former environmental attorney as well as the wife of rancher Bill Niman. She has gathered the data to overturn the myths that continue to persist falsely in the climate-change debate, and her book is loaded with indisputable facts and figures that debunk the “sacred cows” of the anti-animal agenda:

  • Eating meat causes world hunger. Not true. In fact, livestock are not only a nutrient dense food source replacing much more acreage of vegetation for the same nutritive value, livestock are deemed a “critical food” that provides “critical cash” for one billion of the planet’s poorest people — many of whom live where plant crops cannot be grown.
  • Eating meat causes deforestation. Not true. Forests, especially in Brazil, are cleared primarily for soybean production. Approximately 85 percent of the global soybean supply is crushed resulting in soybean oil used to make soy products for human consumption and soybean meal for animal consumption. A two-fer.
  • Eating meat, eggs and full-fat dairy products are the cause of cardiovascular disease. Not true. Researchers are re-looking at this failed advice that has shaped 40-years of American dietary policy. Its source was the 1953 Keys study, which actually showed no causative link! Meanwhile, excessive dietary carbohydrates have replaced fats in the diet, which turn to more dangerous forms of fat as we metabolize them than if we had consumed the natural saturated fats themselves. When healthy fats from nutrient-dense animal proteins are removed from the diet, additional sugars and carbs are added and these have led us down the road to increased body mass and diabetes.
  • Cattle overgrazing has ruined the western prairies. Not true. While improper grazing can have a localized detrimental effect, the larger issue is the pervasive negative effect that is largely coming from not grazing enough cattle. Higher stocking densities that are rotated actually improve the health of grasslands. Large herds provide the activity that loosens, aerates and disperses moisture along with the nutrients the cattle return to the soil — for more vigorous grass growth and soil retention — much as 30 million buffalo and antelope groomed the prairies two centuries ago. Meanwhile, the Bureau of Land Management has favored controlled burns over grazing and is taking away land rights our federal government once shared with ranchers. BLM reductions in allowable stocking densities have initiated a land-grabbing cycle of ranchers losing their land and livelihoods while the land is robbed of its benefits.

The anti-animal agenda continues — groundless, yet powerful. Rural economies, farm families, consumers and the Earth pay the price.

The majority of the lifecycle of supermarket beef and dairy products is rooted in grooming the grasslands and forage croplands that are vital to the Earth and its atmosphere. In addition, farmers and ranchers reduce tillage by planting winter cattle forage to hold soil in place, improve its organic matter and moisture-holding capacity, provide habitat for wildlife while providing temporary weed canopy between major crop plantings. Not only do cattle eat these harvested winter forages, they dine on crop residues and a host of other food byproducts that would otherwise go to waste.

Our planet needs livestock and the farmers and ranchers who care for them. They not only feed us — with more high quality dietary protein, calcium, zinc, and iron per serving than plant-based sources — they also feed the planet by providing necessary environmental benefits.

Enjoy your meat and dairy products without fear — certainly without guilt — and with gratefulness and appreciation for the gift of life given by the animals and because of the hard work and care they have been given by the men and women who work daily caring for the land and its animals. This Earth Day, we are grateful for the circle of life and the farmers and ranchers and their cattle, which sustain our existence, our economies, and our environment.

A former newspaper editor, Sherry Bunting has been writing about dairy, livestock and crop production for over 30 years. Before that, she milked cows. She can be reached at agrite@ptd.net.

Learn more about the latest research to measure emissions due to the dairy and livestock industries.

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Images by Sherry Bunting