Posted: Thursday, May 06, 2010 11:00 AM
Rich Pedroncelli/Associated Press
University of California researcher Frank Mitloehner is seen with some Holstein dairy cows inside a Òbio-bubbleÓ at the Davis campus, in 2005. Cows are kept inside the bio-bubbles, which are covered corrals where monitors can measure the gases the cows emit. MitloehnerÕs research could affect regulations nationwide.
Researcher finds dairies contribute small portion to greenhouse gases
By TIM HEARDEN
Frank Mitloehner didn't expect to become a household name in climate change circles.
The University of California-Davis air-quality expert has rather quietly toiled with studies on such things as dust emission and microbial sampling in feedlot cattle and pigs in the 10 years since earning his doctorate at Texas Tech University.
But a report he co-wrote last fall -- one of 33 technical articles he's worked on during the past decade -- pulled him out of relative obscurity.
Mitloehner in October unveiled "Clearing the Air: Livestock's Contribution to Climate Change," which questioned a 2006 United Nations study that asserted that livestock operations are responsible for 18 percent of the world's greenhouse gases.
Recently, a UN scientist who worked on the study titled "Livestock's Long Shadow" acknowledged that Mitloehner "has a point" when asserting that American beef and dairy production accounts for a much lower percentage of the gases believed to cause global warming.
And a new report by the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization appears to validate Mitloehner's study, showing the global dairy sector contributes just 2.7 percent of the world's greenhouse gases and that North American dairy farms have the world's lowest emissions.
Today, search for Mitloehner's name on the Internet and the word "meat" and you'll find some 11,800 entries.
"Most of them just came out in the last month," Mitloehner said. "You will see articles from all over the world -- India, Finland, Chile, Britain, you name it. You'll find that this issue of meatless Mondays has been revisited because of our contribution.
"I think I feel overwhelmed" at all the sudden notoriety, he said. "I think the only response to that is you feel overwhelmed because as a scientist, you're not used to having that interaction with the media."
Mitloehner, an associate professor and cooperative extension specialist at UC-Davis, told a room full of Northern California ranchers last fall that he believes manmade global warming is real but that he questions the degree to which livestock contributes to it.
In the "Clearing the Air" article he wrote with fellow scientists Maurice Pitesky and Kim Stackhouse, Mitloehner made use of U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reports that agriculture as a whole emits only 5.8 percent of the nation's greenhouse gases.
In California, where about 20 percent of U.S. cows reside and produce some 280 million pounds of manure a day, state officials say only 5.4 percent of greenhouse gases come from agriculture, Mitloehner said.
Recently, Pierre Gerber, the FAO's livestock policy adviser and an author of "Livestock's Long Shadow," told the BBC that Mitloehner "has a point" in criticizing the UN for factoring such things as trucking of cattle and feed production into livestock's carbon footprint but not doing the same thing for transportation or other industries.
Further, a new UN report, "Greenhouse Gas Emissions from the Dairy Sector -- A Life Cycle Analysis," found that beef and milk production from the global dairy herd accounts for 4.1 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions.
The study asserts the U.S. livestock industry has the fewest emissions of greenhouse gases per unit, and that its efficiency could be a model for the rest of the world.
Mitloehner said he has noticed that the tone of coverage has changed for some media organizations that previously portrayed the beef and dairy industries as destructive to the planet.
"Prior to our article, everyone said if you cut animal protein from your diet, this is the biggest contribution you could make to reduce global warming," Mitloehner said. "I think we infused some science into this discussion. I don't think it was always all that scientific."
Greenhouse Gas Emissions from the Dairy Sector -- A Life Cycle Analysis: www.fao.org/news/story/en/item/41348/icode