Livestock emissions have been blamed as a major contributor to climate change, prompting some to believe that forgoing the consumption of animal products will have a meaningful impact on reducing overall greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Professor and air quality specialist in the Department of Animal Science at UC Davis, Dr. Frank Mitloehner recently highlighted some of the major misconceptions pertaining to livestock and emission levels at the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry hearing on Climate Change and the Agriculture Sector.
“U.S. livestock has shown astonishing progress economically and ecologically in past decades,” Mitloehner stated. “This massive increase in efficiency and decrease in emissions has been made possible by the technological, genetic, and management changes in U.S. agriculture since World War II.”
The heightened focus on livestock emissions has created even more intense advocacy for meatless diets, under the erroneous assumption that it will have a significant impact on climate change. “It’s staggering how many people think that merely us giving up meat, even once a week, will make a significant impact on the individual carbon footprint. A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (PNAS) demonstrates that it cannot,” said Mitloehner. The study, Nutritional and greenhouse gas impacts of removing animals from US agriculture, demonstrates that GHG emissions in the U.S. would only be reduced by less than three percent if every American quit consuming meat.
Mitloehner went on to detail figures from the Environmental Protection Agency which demonstrate that all of the animal agriculture in the U.S. contributes less than four percent of all GHG emissions collectively. Transportation, electricity generation, and other industrial activities on the other hand are responsible for 80 percent. The committee was also informed that methane has a much shorter lifespan of ten years, versus other gases such as carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide which have a lifespan of 1,000 years.
“Methane is different from the other gases insofar that it’s not just emitted, but also destroyed globally at the same level,” said Mitloehner. “There’s a destruction process called hydroxyl oxidation and that occurs constantly. So, any kind of discussions that I’m part of is a discussion where that fact is left out and it shouldn’t be left out because it’s critical.”