The United Nations (UN) has admitted a report linking livestock to global warming exaggerated the impact of eating meat on climate change. A 2006 study, Livestock's Long Shadow, claimed meat production was responsible for 18 percent of greenhouse gas emissions - more than the transport sector.
In Clearing the Air: Livestock's Contribution to Climate Change, principle investigator Frank Mitloehner, Ph.D., associate professor and cooperative extension specialist in air quality from the University of California at Davis, said meat and milk production generates less greenhouse gas than most environmentalists claim and that the emissions figures were calculated differently for the meat sector than they were for the transport figures, resulting in an "apples-and-oranges analogy that truly confused the issue."
The meat figure had been reached by adding all greenhouse gas emissions associated with meat production, including fertilizer production, land clearance, methane emissions and vehicle use on farms, whereas the transport figure had only included the burning of fossil fuels.
Attempts to apply these global numbers to the United States are misleading because the vast majority of global greenhouse gas emissions attributed to livestock production result from deforestation and converting rain forests and other lands to grow crops or pasture. Such changes do not occur in the United States, which has seen an increase in the total acreage of forested land over the last several decades even while total agricultural production has increased.
In 2007, only 2.8 percent of U.S. greenhouse emissions came from animal agriculture, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. This number has remained nearly constant since 1990, which is impressive considering the U.S. increases in meat production of almost 50 percent over the same time period.
"The fact that greenhouse emissions have remained nearly constant while industry production has increased shows that U.S. livestock and meat producers have taken responsible steps to protect the environment, such as improving feed efficiency, implementing better manure management strategies and using cropland more effectively," said J. Patrick Boyle, American Meat Institute president and chief executive officer. "We've accomplished this feat all the while providing the most abundant, safe, diverse and affordable meat supply in the world.
Reprinted in part from meatandpoultry.com