Defending the cow

Donald Moore of the Global Dairy Platform sent me a link to an article that invites us to imagine a world without dairy cows, written by GDP’s Dr Mitch Kanter, which has been published in the November/December 2020 issue of Nutrition Today, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Society for Nutrition. I think it makes the point that we would all be poorer without our four-hooved friends, and in many ways.

“Globally, dairy provides 5% of the energy in the diet. It is a key source of one of the highest quality and most accessible proteins in the human diet, and in developing regions of the world where high-quality proteins are scarce, dairy can literally be a lifesaver. In countries such as India, where it is estimated that up to 70% of the population suffers some degree of protein calorie malnutrition, and 40% of the workforce experienced stunting as children, this notion is all too real,” the article notes.

One argument with cows and grazing is that the land could be turned over to arable farmland, but this is not the case, the article says. “Roughly 70% of the land currently used worldwide to raise cows is permanent pastureland, the type of land that because of topography, soil quality, or other factors would not serve as viable crop land under the best of circumstances. It has been estimated that approximately only 3% of the land used globally by dairy cows is potential arable land.”

Meanwhile, these marvellous animals are a miracle in turning poor quality into high quality protein. “The protein cows tend to ingest is largely inedible by humans and of far lower quality than the protein cows produce. It has been estimated that roughly 86% of the feed consumed by livestock is not consumed by humans. As an example, in California, cows consume upward of 38 million pounds of almond hulls per year, a by-product of the almond industry that would otherwise end up in landfills.”

So, the cow is a recycling unit on four hooves. You can also use her manure for fertiliser and increase the sustainability footprint further.

If we look at greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, the numbers back up the cows too. “All of agriculture accounts for 24% of GHG emissions; within that dairy is responsible for 2.7%. However, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency’s 2016 US and global reports, the transportation sector in the US accounts for ~28% of GHG emissions (14% globally), energy ~28% (25% globally), and industry ~22% (21% globally).”

Further, a growing body of evidence indicates that the primary GHG produced by cows, methane, has a significantly lower warming potential than the CO2 produced by fossil fuels.

So, the landscape without cows: imagine your country’s rural areas looking bleak. “Roughly 600 million people around the world live on approximately 133 million dairy farms, mostly small farms that house on average 2 to 3 cows. Another 400 million people in and outside these farming communities derive their livelihoods from the dairy industry. Imagine the effects on whole towns and regions if cows disappeared from the landscape,” the article notes.

Dr Kanter also wonders about why livestock is considered a GHG “offender”, when other animals such as horses and pets get a free pass. There are nine million dairy cows and horses in the US, and over 160 million carnivorous cats and dogs, the latter consuming 30% as much food and producing 30% as much faeces as humans.

It’s a worthwhile read. You can find the article here.

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One response to “Defending the cow”

  1. I’ve been making the argument for a while that we should first get rid of all the horses since we don’t milk them and rarely eat them…but this discussion is not generally welcomed!

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