Food & Drink » Glenda Bartosh on Food

F&D A matter of meat

Making real changes to tackle climate change only gets tougher

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Essentially, it analyzed the production of greenhouse gases throughout the entire life cycle of animal protein products (meat as well as eggs and dairy products), which meant everything from changes in land use to transportation and the fertilizers used, in addition to the more direct and giggle-producing factor of greenhouse gases emitted by animal manure and farts, more genteelly known as "cow burps."

By comparison, the UN report only calculated the greenhouse gas emissions from burning fossil fuels in the aforementioned transportation modes, not the entire life cycle of same, such as emissions from manufacturing planes or cars, or those from the asphalt used in airport runways and roads.

Why not calculate the entire life cycles? Simply because the data is not available - something I find mind-blowing.

No wonder people grow confused and catatonic, for the press quickly and inaccurately glommed on to the UC Davis info, reporting that eating meat isn't related to climate change. Meat and dairy not tied to global warming, blared one newspaper headline.

But it is. First, the rest of the UN report on livestock production and greenhouse gas emissions held up factually under Dr. Mitloehner's and his team's scrutiny, plus other studies have concluded similar results.

It's also worth noting, as the CJR does, that this new research was funded in part by the Beef Checkoff Program, a consumer education program in the U.S. supported through fees levied on beef producers.

As for Dr. Mitloehner's total research since 2002, 5 per cent of his US$5 million in research funding has come from agricultural commodities groups, such as beef producers - not necessarily a bad thing, just one more of those subtle and potentially sideswiping details consumers should be aware of when assessing such reports, and likely aren't.

About the same time as all these goings-on, we have people up in arms in England over a plan to farm 8,100 cows "American-style" in England's largest dairy, a huge complex inside hangars.

Wonder where all their excrement goes? The animals would be kept on a bed of sand, "continuously cleaned and recycled" say the owners. They, meaning the cows not the owners, would be fed by-products from a local sugar beet factory and an ethanol/biofuel plant. Yummy.

As for the greenhouse gas emissions, they'll match those from 3,000 houses, say the protestors, in addition to the 280,000 litres of milk to be produced every day.

Now this is industrial agriculture at its finest - enough to send you scuttling to a box of rice milk or a bottle of Avalon milk in a hurry.