In Clearing the Air: Livestock’s Contribution to Climate Change, Dr Frank Mitloehner, an “air quality expert” from the University of California, argues that producing less meat will have no effect on harmful greenhouse gas emissions and that producing less meat will in fact “only mean more hunger in poor countries”.
Mitloehner labels as “unscientific” and inaccurate assessments that livestock production is responsible for 18 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions – a figure contained in the 2006 UN report Livestock’s Long Shadow.
He adds that livestock emission figures are calculated differently to those of transport. He calls it a “lopsided analysis” that livestock emissions count embedded emissions – those produced from grazing pasture to plate – when transport emissions only factor in the fossil fuels burnt while driving.
While it’s fair to say the methodologies are different, embedded emissions are the most thorough and scientific way of understanding the real impact of the goods and resources we consume. Rather than change the way we calculate the impact of meat production, it would be better to ask why transport figures don’t take embedded emissions into account – transport figures would rise considerably if the same calculation were applied.
The fact remains that the livestock industry is responsible for a phenomenal volume of greenhouse gases. And consider some other factors that Mitloehner conveniently ignores:
- The meat industry is set to double its production by 2050
- The two gases produced by livestock – methane and nitrous oxide – are respectively 21 and 310 times more powerful than CO2, and stays in the atmosphere for considerably longer.
- More meat production will mean more hunger, not less. A third of the world’s cereal crops and over 90 per cent of soya goes to feed animals rather than humans
- It takes 634 gallons of water to produce a 150g beefburger – compare this with 143 gallons to grow the same amount of tofu.
- Compassion in World Farming estimates that the average UK household would cut more emissions by halving its meat consumption than by cutting car use in half
- Researchers at the National Institute of Livestock and Grassland Science in Tsukuba, Japan, found that producing 1kg of beef accounts for greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to the CO2 created by a 250km car journey
For more in-depth analysis on the report and the media reporting, read these blogs by Pat Thomas and the Guardian’s Leo Hickman