Study Finds Cars, Not Cows, are Greater Contributors to Greenhouse Gas Emissions

A recently published white paper, Livestock’s Contributions to Climate Change: Facts and Fiction, sheds new light on the role of livestock production in greenhouse gas emissions.

Authored by Dr. Frank Mitloehner, professor and air-quality specialist at the University of California-Davis, the paper identifies energy production and cars, not cows, as the largest U.S. contributors of greenhouse gases that are believed to drive climate change.

Mitloehner’s paper is a response to claims that livestock production is to blame for the lion’s share of U.S. contributions to total GHG emissions. The paper reveals that the U.S. livestock sector contributes 4 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, compared to 27 percent from the transportation sector and 31 percent from the energy sector.

“The white paper on livestock’s contribution to climate change puts EPA greenhouse gas estimates in perspective,” said Tony Banks, a commodity marketing specialist for Virginia Farm Bureau Federation. “Some special interest groups would have us believe that livestock are responsible for over half of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. The EPA estimates animal agriculture is responsible for only 4 percent of emissions, but that doesn’t even include the volume of greenhouse gas captured by agricultural crops and grassland.”

Mitloehner does not underestimate the need to control livestock emissions, but he does point out that, in the past six decades, “the U.S. livestock sector has shown considerable progress to continually reduce its environmental footprint.”

In fact, since the 1950s the carbon footprint of the U.S. beef and dairy sector has continued to shrink as production increased or stayed the same.

A progress report comparing beef production from 1977 to 2007 found that industry’s carbon footprint was reduced by 16 percent over the past 30 years.

“The U.S. livestock farms have the lowest carbon footprint per unit of livestock product produced compared to livestock farms in other countries,” Banks said. “U.S. livestock farms employ technology and improved genetics and management that improve the production efficiency; in turn that reduces environmental impacts for air, soil and water.”

It is time, Mitloehner wrote, “to end the rhetoric and separate facts from fiction around the numerous sectors that contribute emissions and to identify solutions for the global food supply.”

The full white paper is available at

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