Cows are not killing the climate

A key claim to the rise in greenhouse emissions is that globally, meat production generates more greenhouse emissions than the entire transportation sector, and that the public should be eating less meat and dairy to save the environment.

A newsletter from the European Milk Board shared an article by Frank M. Mitloehner, Professor of animal science and air quality extension specialist at the University of California, ‘Yes, eating meat affects the environment, but cows are not killing the climate’ showing that this claim is wrong. He says that avoiding meat and meat products won’t fix climate change in the way we might think.

Mitloehner states that livestock don’t emit the largest amount of greenhouse gas emissions – 2016 data from the US Environmental Protection Agency showed that all of agriculture amounts to 9% of all emissions and less than half of this (3.9%) from animal agriculture. Meanwhile, the data showed the largest producers were in fact electricity production (28%), transportation (28%) and industry (22%). A big difference.

The author claims that the misconceptions about livestock emissions came from an FAO study in 2016 that stated livestock produced 18% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, more than all of the world transportation combined. The claim was corrected by the report’s co-author Henning Steinfeld.

Mitloehner states the mistake was that analysts used two different methods to determine emissions from livestock and transportation giving distorted results. A revised report from FAO estimated that transportation and livestock amounted to 14% and 5% of emissions respectively.

The article also says that removing animals from US agriculture would lower national greenhouse gas emissions by a small amount, but it would need to replace it with other products to fulfill consumer’s dietary requirements – for example vital vitamin B12 can only be found in animal products. According to the study at the University of California, if the practice of Meat-free Mondays was adopted by all Americans, it would give a reduction of only 0.5%.

Excerpt from the article: ‘Yes, eating meat affects the environment, but cows are not killing the climate’ by Frank M. Mitloehner, Professor of Animal Science and Air Quality Extension Specialist, University of California, Davis, October 25, 2018.

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