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Clearing The Air On Cattle And The Environment

img_7487.JPG On. Nov. 26, 2006, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations (UN) released a report titled, “Livestock’s Long Shadow.” The report claims that livestock production accounts for 18% of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. However, the statistics cited by “Livestock’s Long Shadow” differ significantly from those calculated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). In 2009, the EPA said that the vast majority of GHG emissions come from the use of fossil fuels and electricity, not livestock.

Frank Mitloehner, an internationally renowned authority on agricultural air quality, animal-environmental interactions, and environmental engineering at the University of California-Davis, is one of the key researchers who has tirelessly worked to disprove this UN report. In fact, his findings helped to discover that the claims made about global livestock production are not relevant to the U.S. His data showed that the U.S. ag sector accounts for only 5.8% of annual U.S. GHG emissions. Today, Mitloehner is committed to sharing his findings and clearing the air on cattle and air quality.

“When the UN report came out in 2006, nobody doubted it. Unfortunately, the report is referenced everywhere, and it’s a flawed study. Livestock in developed countries contribute a relatively small level of GHGs, and the report’s finding of 18% is an international number, not one that is representative of the U.S. In fact, GHG emissions contributed by large transportation, energy and industry dwarf that of agriculture,” Mitloehner said in a speech to veterinarians earlier this year.

Meanwhile, livestock in developing countries can be a dominant contributor to the GHG portfolio, but it's due to deforestation, which inflates the number by one-third, he says. Many are surprised to learn that over the last 20 years, the U.S. has had a net increase of forest land by 20%. In addition, comparing livestock to transportation is inappropriate, he adds, because the report doesn’t even include transportation numbers.

“Today, the authors of the UN study say the U.S. is a model for livestock production around the world. Nonetheless, "meatless Mondays" are in the news a lot. San Francisco has declared Monday to be meatless in the city because they are trying to save the planet. Paul McCartney is urging places like France and India to do the same,” says Mitloehner, who believes the damage is already done for livestock producers.

Obviously, the trend is growing, but Mitloehner hopes to share the findings from his report, “Shrinking The Shadow,” to offset the innacurate perception fostered by the UN report.

“My goal is to clear the air on cattle’s impact on climate change and air quality. I encourage others to share the good news of U.S. agriculture and the environment with others, as well," he concluded.

Have you shared these statistics with members of your community or your friends on Facebook? There is a huge difference between 5.8% and 18%, and the truth is on agriculture's side. I'm proud to be a part of such an efficient, productive food system, and I know ranchers are committed to caring for their livestock and serving as stewards of the land; that's the only way we will be sustainable into future generations.