Eating less meat and dairy products won't have major impact on global warming

March 22, 2010, American Chemical Society
Reducing consumption of meat and dairy products might not have a major impact in combating global warming despite claims that link diets rich in animal products to production of greenhouse gases. Credit: Wikimedia

Cutting back on consumption of meat and dairy products will not have a major impact in combating global warming — despite repeated claims that link diets rich in animal products to production of greenhouse gases. That's the conclusion of a report presented here today at the 239th National Meeting of the American Chemical Society.

Air quality expert Frank Mitloehner, Ph.D., who made the presentation, said that giving cows and pigs a bum rap is not only scientifically inaccurate, but also distracts society from embracing effective solutions to global climate change. He noted that the notion is becoming deeply rooted in efforts to curb , citing campaigns for "meatless Mondays" and a European campaign, called "Less Meat = Less Heat," launched late last year.

"We certainly can reduce our production, but not by consuming less meat and milk," said Mitloehner, who is with the University of California-Davis. "Producing less meat and milk will only mean more hunger in poor countries."

The focus of confronting climate change, he said, should be on smarter farming, not less farming. "The developed world should focus on increasing efficient in developing countries where growing populations need more . In developing countries, we should adopt more efficient, Western-style farming practices to make more food with less greenhouse gas production," Mitloehner said.

Developed countries should reduce use of oil and coal for electricity, heating and vehicle fuels. Transportation creates an estimated 26 percent of all in the U.S., whereas raising cattle and pigs for food accounts for about 3 percent, he said.

Mitloehner says confusion over meat and milk's role in stems from a small section printed in the executive summary of a 2006 United Nations report, "Livestock's Long Shadow." It read: "The livestock sector is a major player, responsible for 18 percent of greenhouse gas emissions measured in CO2e (carbon dioxide equivalents). This is a higher share than transport."

Mitloehner says there is no doubt that livestock are major producers of methane, one of the greenhouse gases. But he faults the methodology of "Livestock's Long Shadow," contending that numbers for the livestock sector were calculated differently from transportation. In the report, the livestock emissions included gases produced by growing animal feed; animals' digestive emissions; and processing and milk into foods. But the transportation analysis factored in only emissions from fossil fuels burned while driving and not all other transport lifecycle related factors.

"This lopsided analysis is a classical apples-and-oranges analogy that truly confused the issue," he said.

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3.3 / 5 (4) Mar 22, 2010
Do funding sources bring this into question?

For example see project "Volatile Organic Compound and Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Growing and Finishing Feedlot Steers and Their Waste" pg. 17 ( )
California Cattlemen Assoc. funding of $169,590.
2.7 / 5 (7) Mar 22, 2010
What a croc! If we started eating the soy beans ourselves instead of feeding it to cattle we would save huge amounts of energy as well as going a long way towards erradicating world hunger!
It's the same with farmed norwegian salmon. They empty the seas of perfectly edible smaller fish and grind them down into pellets. The pellets in turn are used to feed the farmed salmon. What a waste of perfectly edible fish just so that we can have a tastier but much more wasteful salmon file.
Now, I'm no vegetarian. I love a juicy steak, but perhaps that is exactly what we have to give up in order to lower our carbon foot print and to prevent the last rain forests from being cut down...
2.6 / 5 (5) Mar 22, 2010
AHAHAHA I hope no one believes this...they are known to be in the purse of the cattlemen lol
1.8 / 5 (5) Mar 22, 2010
This research is as truthful as killing all the big fishes that can be hunted with all the latest technologies, such as the blue fin tuna and whales will have fuck all consequences in the future. Which is absolutely true, to those subscribe to it, of course they won't give a shit, nor able to, since by then they will be rotting away, leaving the issue for others.
3 / 5 (4) Mar 22, 2010
Gotta agree with the comments so far. What is such a fact-free article doing here?
2.3 / 5 (3) Mar 22, 2010
How would cutting production of milk and meat cause hunger? I just don't see the mechanism for that.
5 / 5 (4) Mar 22, 2010
Often neglected point is, many animals are able to collect proteins from life environment more efficiently, then the agricultural plants by using of solar radiation, because they can consume even the plants growing in wild, which people cannot. Which is the reason, why people in rain forests, deserts or arctic areas are feeded by meat preferably - the farming of moose is apparently more economical and therefore ecological(!) there, then the growing of plants.

For example, for production of rice it's required 2552 m³ of water/ ton rice, whereas for production of one ton of poultry 3809 m³ of water its required. Therefore the consumption of poultry may sound like ineffective waste of water for someone - but the content of proteins in rice is ten times lower, then in chicken meat! This explains, why people from deserts in Chad or Mongolia are living from pasturage, instead of agriculture. Farming is more ecological then the agriculture, providing it doesn't use agricultural products.
5 / 5 (2) Mar 22, 2010
Nice points there, seneca.

Whether meaty diets are damaging to the environment or not, I am going to continue to enjoy meats as well as vegetables and fungi on my dinner plate. Yum!
3 / 5 (4) Mar 22, 2010
It isn't animal food per se that causes extra greenhouse gases. But when cows and pigs are raised on farms and fed grain that people could eat, it obviously is more energy intensive and causes more greenhouse gases than eating the grain directly!
Even if people couldn't use what's fed to the cows and pigs, if the land used to raise that grain could grow grains for people instead, it would also use much less energy.
Our animal food hardly ever comes from animals that are grazing in areas we couldn't farm for people food.
I'm almost completely vegan. You get used to whatever you eat and you come to like it. That's a little-understood reality of food.
3.7 / 5 (3) Mar 22, 2010
Fight the CO2 famine! Diatoms and corals have been sequestering it in limestone for millions of years. Bring levels back up to 1000ppm so plants and the animals that eat them can thrive again!
5 / 5 (4) Mar 23, 2010
What nonsense. This guy sounds like a shill for corporate interests. Read April issue of Nat'l Geographic on water use alone: 1857 gal per lb. of beef vs. 43 gal per lb. of beans. And this is not a major environmental impact? Developing countries (and us too) don't need meat. Grain and legumes in combo yields equivalent protein to meat.
3 / 5 (2) Mar 23, 2010
Not only does a low-to-no meat diet help our environmental problems, but it has been shown in innumerable studies to improve human health. Combine that with just eating less while exercising more, and there you have a formula for a longer lasting and healthy life. Turn your suburban lawn into a productive garden. Bicycle and walk whenever possible. These things are both obvious and well-supported by research. What's not obvious is how to change one's daily habits.
not rated yet Mar 23, 2010
One kilo of meat costs 7 kilo of grain products. How is consuming meat not a waste of resources?
1 / 5 (4) Mar 23, 2010
First, there is no global warming; see Dr Roy Spencer's examination of urban heat island effects on land-based temperature records - rural temp records show about 1/10 degree warming. Second, the biggest danger is an ice age, and current temps are well below the average for the last 10,000 years (since the last ice age). Third, warm is good for all plant and animal life, and for mankind. If we starts with false assumptions, we can travel anywhere.
not rated yet Mar 23, 2010
Consider the source:

Associate Professor and Cooperative Extension Specialist – Air Quality
Department of Animal Science
University of California

Putting it simply, the greenhouse gas emissions of the transportation industry are dominated by the combustion of fuel used for transportation.

The assertion that it is an apples and oranges comparison (factoring in all of the producers of greenhouse gas for livestock production, and yet only using the greenhouse gas production of the combustion of fuel for the transportation sector) is specious.

If we were to count the greenhouse gas production of the ENTIRE iron and coke industry, the cement industry, and the aluminum industry with the greenhouse gas production of the combustion of fuel for transportation, we would only increase the total tons of greenhouse gas produced by transportation by 10 % (from Executive Summary - Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks: 1990–2007, EPA).

not rated yet Mar 23, 2010
One kilo of meat costs 7 kilo of grain products. How is consuming meat not a waste of resources?
I explained it already: meat contains 15% proteine, grain products only 3-7% proteines and their composition remains often unbalanced with respect to content of essential aminoacids (soya beans are an exception).
For example, pulses (peas, lentils, and beans other than soybeans) are low in methionine. Nuts and most grains are low in lysine.
not rated yet Mar 24, 2010
And yet soya beans are exactly what we use to feed our live least in Sweden. Directly imported from South America where the Amazons are cut down to provide more land for growing them. Wasteful? Well, why don't you decide for yourself...
not rated yet Mar 28, 2010
Well at least the article had one factual presentation. Modernizing developing world's farming practices will make them more efficient and less polluting.
not rated yet Mar 28, 2010
Don't forget that the article didn't say that you could just eat meat with no consequences. The way I read it is that the transport of the goods can be a much larger part than we might think. i.e. if I live in an area with a lot of livestock and not a lot of agriculture, it might be better for me to buy local poultry than to buy tomatoes from 3000 miles away. That isn't to say maybe it's better to convert some of that livestock farm area to growing soybeans, but I don't have control over that. It's certainly worth re-evaluating where your products come from and to take it into account for your eco-decisions.

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