UC Davis scientist to lead UN effort to study livestock’s environmental impact

Nov 7, 2012

In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, climate change and global greenhouse emissions are a hot topic these days. Dozens of UC Davis scientists study many facets of the causes and consequences of global warming.

One of them is Frank Mitloehner, UC Cooperative Extension specialist and professor in the Department of Animal Science at UC Davis. Mitloehner has studied the role of the livestock industry in contributing to greenhouse gas emissions. Mitloehner was recently selected to chair a United Nations committee to measure and assess the environmental impacts of the livestock industry.

As chair of the new Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) committee, he will lead representatives of national governments, livestock industries, nonprofits, and the private sector in establishing science-based methods to quantify livestock’s carbon footprint, create a database of greenhouse gas emission factors for animal feed, and develop a methodology to measure other environmental pressures, such as water consumption and nutrient loss.

“By the end of three years, we’ll have a methodology that’s globally accepted, that anyone in the world can use to quantify the environmental impact of their livestock,” Mitloehner said.

The FAO estimates that meat consumption will increase 73 percent by 2050 and dairy consumption will grow 58 percent over current levels. Methods of raising livestock differ throughout the world, with American producers being among the world’s most efficient. For instance, it takes approximately 20 Indian cows to produce as much milk as one dairy cow in the United States.

Mitloehner’ s research has found that livestock account for 3.4 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States. The transportation sector, on the other hand, contributes roughly 26 percent.

“Transportation choices continue to be the main contribution to climate change and not, as is often depicted, food choices,” Mitloehner says. “This new program is an effort to harmonize methodologies to benchmark the environmental impact of livestock.”

Among the founding members of the committee are the governments of France, Ireland, the Netherlands, and New Zealand, as well as the European Feed Manufacturers’ Federation, the European Vegetable Oils and Proteinmeal Industry, the International Dairy Federation, the International Meat Secretariat, the International Egg Commission, the International Poultry Council, the International Federation for Animal Health, and the World Wildlife Fund.


By John Stumbos
Author - Senior Writer
By Katherine E. Kerlin
Author - Sr. Public Information Representative