23 March 2010

Meat and dairy consumption link to global warming questioned

by Kate Melville

Public awareness campaigns such as "Meatless Mondays" and Europe's "Less Meat = Less Heat" are scientifically inaccurate, says a researcher who contends there is no evidence for repeated claims that diets rich in animal products lead to an increased production of greenhouse gases. Air quality expert Frank Mitloehner, from the University of California-Davis, presented his findings at the 239th National Meeting of the American Chemical Society.

Mitloehner said that a pervasive wrong-headed attitude towards agriculture distracts society from embracing effective solutions to global climate change. "We certainly can reduce our greenhouse-gas production, but not by consuming less meat and milk," he said. "Producing less meat and milk will only mean more hunger in poor countries. Transportation creates 26 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S., whereas raising cattle and pigs for food accounts for about 3 percent."

Mitloehner claims that confusion over meat and milk's role in climate change 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 meat 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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Source: American Chemical Society