Frank Mitloehner is on a mission.
In the wake of a United Nations report pinning much of human-caused global warming on animal agriculture and promoting veganism as the logical alternative, Mitloehner, a professor of animal science and air quality specialist at the University of California-Davis, wants to set the record straight.
In doing that, he is encouraging farmers and ranchers to tell the public, as radioman Paul Harvey used to say, “the rest of the story.”
While the U.N. report pointed out that cattle and other animals do indeed produce the greenhouse gas methane — no secret there — he says the U.N. and “special friends” such as anti-animal agriculture activists and vegan promoters leave out important facts.
For example, methane breaks down after about 10 years. As long as the number of animals doesn’t increase, the amount of methane in the atmosphere won’t increase.
“It’s not adding carbon to the atmosphere,” he said at the recent Idaho Milk Producers Association conference. “If you’re not adding additional carbon you’re not adding to warming.”
That is the primary difference between any methane emissions from livestock and other sources of greenhouse gases such as transportation and electrical generation, which produce carbon dioxide and nitric oxide, he said. Carbon dioxide has a lifespan of about 1,000 years.
Fossil fuels burned for electricity, transportation and industry emit 81% of U.S. greenhouse gases, he said. By contrast, all of agriculture emits 9% of greenhouse gases, and animal agriculture emits 3.9% — including the crops to feed animals, processing and transportation.
That small impact on the climate is more than offset by the benefits of animal agriculture. The beauty of it is animals can be raised on marginal land that couldn’t support other crops. Cattle and other livestock eat grasses that humans can’t eat and produce high-quality protein. Taking livestock out of the picture would reduce the food available without impacting climate change.
Mitloehner also spoke last spring to the U.S. Senate Agriculture Committee. In his remarks, he said what we hear about livestock’s relationship to global warming is not the truth. Far from it.
“There’s a notion that globally, livestock produces more greenhouse gases leading to climate change than the entire transportation sector. This global comparison is then erroneously applied to the United States, and we are advised to eat less animal-source food (e.g., meat) to protect us from global warming and other environmental harm,” he told the committee. “It’s reminiscent of something Daniel Kahneman, a psychologist, behavioral economist and Nobel prize winner, once said. ‘A reliable way to make people believe in falsehoods is frequent repetition, because familiarity is not easily distinguished from truth.’ In other words, the more we hear it, the more we believe it. And we hear it a lot.”
Some 7 billion people on the planet depend on farmers and ranchers every day, yet the U.N. and other “special friends” say that doesn’t matter.
Mitloehner may feel like a voice in the wilderness these days, but he needs to know that his efforts to put the truth in front of the public are much appreciated.