Got milk: 3 percent of greenhouse gases from milk production

Jeremy Hance
April 21, 2010

Just less than 3 percent of the world's greenhouse gas emissions come from the production of milk, according to a new study by the UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO). Covering dairy producing animals from small nomadic herds to massive industrialized dairy operations, the FAO study factors in the production, processing, and transportation of milk as well as the fertilizer, pesticides, and feed used in the dairy industry. The total rises 4 percent if using dairy animals for meat is included.

Methane—a potent greenhouse gas—makes up half of the dairy sector contribution to greenhouse gases, while nitrous oxide and carbon dioxide make up significant portions.

The FAO produced a study in 2006 that linked 18 percent of the world's greenhouse gas emissions to the world's 1.7 billion livestock. But the figure has recently been questioned by air quality expert Dr. Frank Mitloehner from the University of California-Davis.

Mitloehner, who has received research money from the agriculture commodities groups, says that the FAO's study measured the full lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions of livestock—including emissions from growing livestock feed, animals' digestive emissions, and processing meat and milk into food products—while the report only looked at the direct emissions from transportation, i.e. the burning of fossils fuels.

A quarter of the world's land is currently used for raising livestock, while one third of the world's cultivated land is used to grow crops to feed livestock. For example, the cattle industry is the primary cause of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon: causing 80 percent of deforestation between 1996 and 2006.

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Jeremy Hance
mongabay.com (April 21, 2010).

Got milk: 3 percent of greenhouse gases from milk production.