Air quality specialist says beef not to blame for emissions

ARLINGTON—Dr. Frank Mitloehner’s research at the University of California-Davis challenged the United Nations’ claims that livestock are responsible for most greenhouse gas emissions.

"Suggesting that consumers should cut out meat to save the planet is totally misleading," Mitloehner told those attending the 10th Annual Animal Agriculture Alliance summit in early May. "Beef production is responsible for just 1 percent of U.S. emissions."

The summit’s theme was "United We Eat: Securing Animal Agriculture’s Future." Roberts was among more than a dozen speakers who talked about food security, challenges farmers face from animal rights activists and ways to improve animal agriculture’s image.

Mitloehner is an associate professor in UC-Davis’ department of animal science and a Cooperative Extension air quality specialist. His job is to provide science-based information about air quality issues associated with animal agriculture.

His research on greenhouse emissions began when he read a report listing dairy cows and dairy farm manure lagoons as the No. 1 cause of smog.

"I wanted to find out where they came up with this," Mitloehner said. "Methane is a greenhouse gas and doesn’t cause smog."

So he began conducting research and found that manure lagoons are actually the smallest source of greenhouse gas emissions on dairy farms. Silage emits organic gases and is the No. 1 on-farm source.

Now the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says 5.8 percent of all greenhouse gases are caused by agriculture, with 3 percent from livestock.

Mitloehner said his research refutes that the entire beef sector contributes about 1 percent of greenhouse gases. "If everyone ate beef one less day a week, would that really have a significant impact?"

The amount of gas emissions from livestock in developed countries is dwarfed by emissions from transportation and industry, he said.

However, the public is led to believe that large-scale producers create more emissions, but that’s not true, Mitloehner said. For example, he said it takes five Mexican cows to produce the same amount of milk as one U.S. cow. And five cows produce much more manure than one.

"We are a model to the rest of the world," Mitloehner said. "We produce efficiently with a minimum effect on the climate."

Contact Kay Johnson Smith, Animal Agriculture Alliance executive vice president, at 703-562-5160.

Support Virginia Agriculture

Join Now

Related Articles

Get Recognized

If your publication or radio or television station is delivering stellar coverage of agriculture on an ongoing basis, this is the award competition to enter. Learn More