Animal Products / Climate Change / Livestock

UN body to look at meat and climate link

Livestock's Long Shadow calculated meat-related emissions from field to abattoir

A 2006 report concluded meat production was responsible for 18% of greenhouse gas emissions – more than transport.

The report has been cited by people campaigning for a more vegetable-based diet, including Sir Paul McCartney.

But a new analysis, presented at a major US science meeting, says the transport comparison was flawed.

Sir Paul was one of the figures launching a campaign late last year centred on the slogan “Less meat = less heat”.

But curbing meat production and consumption would be less beneficial for the climate than has been claimed, said Frank Mitloehner from the University of California at Davis (UCD).

“Smarter animal farming, not less farming, will equal less heat,” he told delegates to the American Chemical Society (ACS) meeting in San Francisco.

“Producing less meat and milk will only mean more hunger in poor countries.”

Read more… (BBC News)

6 thoughts on “UN body to look at meat and climate link

  1. Interesting that the American Chemical Society would be the ones challenging the climate change fanatics and presenting some truth on meat and livestock.

    The 2006 report cited is FAO’s “Livestock’s Long Shadow”

    The 18% livestock green house gas contribution figure accepted as gospel truth by the climate change groupies comes from this report.

    Essentially, the report was an amazingly unreasonable attack on livestock and pastoralism.

    Did ILRI challenge this attack?

    Worse, the BBC article does not mention ILRI even once. Odd no? One would think that ILRI would be sought out for research-based comment etc.

    Guess not…

  2. To Rainer:

    Thanks for your comment on this BBC news clipping.

    Ever since the FAO study was released, in late 2006, ILRI has been publishing a great variety of articles (including on the BBC, see below) to educate publics and decision-makers on the pro-poor aspects of the FAO study, mainly the ‘milk and meat divide’ between rich and poor countries; these ILRI articles all argue the need for different livestock production and consumption policies for the very different circumstances found in rich and poor countries.

    ILRI has never argued against the all-inclusive figure of 18% for the amount of greenhouse gas emissions produced by livestock and their production systems. ILRI appreciates the study by the American Chemical Society that argues that an all-inclusive assessment of greenhouse gas emissions from transport would be much higher than that. And ILRI has argued against another figure of 51% livestock-caused emissions, reported in the non-refereed ‘World Watch Magazine’; this argument has been submitted for publication in a refereed science journal but has not yet been published.

    ILRI and FAO agree that the growth in livestock production and consumption in coming decades will occur in developing countries, where science technologies and policy instruments should be invested in to help make smallholder livestock production more efficient per unit of livestock food produced.

    ILRI argues for a ‘third way’ of livestock production – one that encourages neither industrial factory farming nor subsistence farming practices but rather falls between these extremes.

  3. To Rainer:
    And here is a letter Carlos Sere sent to the New York Times in 2009, which did not get published but has been widely distributed by ILRI

    Demonizing Livestock Hurts One Billion Poor

    “Looking for a solution to cows’ climate problem” (16 November 2009) cites a World Watch article claiming that livestock generate 51% of greenhouse gases rather than the 18% reported by United Nations agricultural experts in 2007. A group of international scientists is publishing a response arguing that the World Watch authors fail to detail their methodologies, to use those consistently across different sectors, and to follow guidelines set by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and Kyoto Protocol. The World Watch authors’ recommend that we all “eat less animal products, or better still, none at all”. That could push some 1 billion livestock keepers and consumers living on little more than a dollar a day into even greater poverty and severe malnourishment. For these people, the solution is not to rid the world of livestock, but rather to find ways to farm animals more efficiently and profitably, as well as sustainably. —Carlos Seré

  4. Here is a filmed interview of ILRI’s director general on the subject of livestock and greenhouse gas emissions:

    ‘Livestock Emissions and Systems in Developing Countries’

    And here are a few of the opinion pieces by ILRI’s director general, Carlos Sere, to give you samples of the many arguments ILRI has been making on the topic of livestock and greenhouse gas emissions.

    (1) 2007, Science in Africa: ‘Is Eating Meat Worse for the Environment than Driving?’

    (2) 2008, SciDevNet: ‘Remember Small-scale Farmers, Policymakers Told’

    (3) 2009, BBC: ‘Balancing the Global Need for Meat’

    (4) 2009, ILRI news release for COP15: ‘Putting Livestock Food on the Climate Change Table’

    (5) 2009, ScientistsLive: ‘Livestock Lead to Better Health in Developing Nations’

    (6) 2009, SciDevNet: ‘No Simple Solution to Livestock and Climate Change’

  5. And here is one of Carlos Sere’s first responses to the media pick up of FAO’s messages about Livestock’s Long Shadow, published on ILRI’s website in Sep 2007.

    Another ‘Inconvenient Truth’

    ‘ILRI director general Carlos Seré responds to an August 2007 New York Times article about animal rights groups promoting vegetarianism as an answer to global warming.

    ‘Claudia Deutsch reports in the New York Times (29 August 2007, and picked up in the International Herald Tribune), that animal rights groups are coalescing around a message that ‘eating meat is worse for the environment than driving’. They are urging people to curb greenhouse gases by becoming vegetarians. These groups are citing a study by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) that states that livestock business generates greenhouse gases. That’s true; methane and carbon dioxide produced by livestock contribute about 15 per cent to global warming effects. But simply focusing on this contribution to global warming distorts the problem and, more importantly, fails to offer solutions. Research tells us it would make little difference to global warming if we somehow removed all the livestock in, say, sub-Saharan Africa. The impact on livelihoods there, however, would be catastrophic.

    ‘What the animal rights folks are not saying (and the FAO report does say) is that for some one billion people on earth who live in chronic hunger, in degrading poverty and in degraded environments, the lowly cow, sheep, goat, pig and chicken provide nutrition, income and major pathways out of poverty, just as they did, until this century, in rich countries. In poor countries today, more than 600 million rural poor people depend on livestock directly for their livelihoods and farm animals account for some 30 percent of agricultural gross domestic product, a figure FAO expects to rise to 40 percent in the next 20 years. Virtually every industrialized country at one stage built its economy significantly through livestock production and there is no indication that developing countries will be different. Do we want to deny one-third of humanity—the 2 billion people living on less than 2 dollars a day—what has been such a critical and ubiquitous element in the development of industrialized countries?

    ‘The animal rights groups argue that humanity could help stem global warming by switching to a plant-based diet because mass-production of animals can lead to environmental as well as health problems. But the livestock that eat grain in the United States eat grass in Africa. The beef that causes heart disease in Europe saves lives in Asia. And the manure that pollutes water in Utah restores soils in Africa. The world is big and full of difference between the have’s and have not’s. In one city, too much cholesterol is a daily fear; in another, too little. But for much of humanity, livestock farming, most of it involving one or two cows or a few goats and sheep or pigs and chickens raised on tiny plots of land or in urban backyards, reduces absolute poverty, malnutrition and disease and often actually helps to conserve natural resources.

    ‘Demand for livestock products is in any case skyrocketing in developing countries, making an increase in animal production in those countries inevitable and this argument academic. FAO and other groups are predicting that the impacts of this on-going ‘livestock revolution’ will change global agriculture, health, livelihoods, and the environment. We should be looking for ways not to stop this livestock revolution (which, being demand-led, is impossible) but rather to harness it for human as well as environmental welfare. And before setting ourselves the task of ridding the world of animal flesh, we might try ridding it instead of unspeakable poverty, hunger and disease. We need a balanced approach to solving complex environmental problems, one that does not hurt the many people who depend on livestock for food and livelihoods.’

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