COMMENTARY – If Greenpeace had its way, global livestock production would mostly end tomorrow. We know this because of the organization’s latest 45-page summary of a plan to save the world from cowboys, gauchos, sheepherders and other vermin on its list.
“Less is More: Reducing Meat and Dairy for a Healthier Life and Planet,” is what Greenpeace calls their “vision of the meat and dairy system towards 2050.” Never mind the plan is impractical and based on some questionable science.
“The need to reduce demand for livestock products,” writes Pete Smith, in an introductory column for the Greenpeace report, “is now a scientifically mainstream view.”
Ummm…No, Pete, it’s the view of people searching for an environmental bogeyman and who continue to use flawed data to target livestock. It’s also a narrow view of global livestock production that fails to distinguish between various production systems. Not to mention, a lot of people would go hungry if not for livestock.
Just to recap, Greenpeace’s new report warns that agriculture will produce 52% of global greenhouse gas emissions in the coming decades, 70% of that from livestock. Greenpeace calls for a 50% reduction of meat and dairy coupled with an increase of plant-based proteins by 2050.
Wait, there’s more. Greenpeace wants governments to end policies that support large-scale meat and dairy and help farmers shift towards ecological methods of growing crops and raising an amount of livestock the planet can sustain. In other words, let’s back up 150 years, raise heirloom tomatoes and farm with mules.
Modern farming is so bad, Greenpeace says, since 1970 the world has lost half of its wildlife but tripled its livestock population, which Greenpeace says now occupies 26% of land on earth. Maybe, but no mention is made of how much of the space occupied by livestock wouldn’t support any other kind of food production, like the western ranges of the U.S. that receive less than 12 inches of rainfall annually.
You have every right to be skeptical of the statistics Greenpeace uses in its argument. Especially in light of the fact fuzzy data helped fuel skewed views about livestock. The home of the original livestock whopper was the 2006 United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) report, “Livestock’s Long Shadow,” which claimed livestock were responsible for 18% of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions measured in carbon dioxide equivalents. That number, FAO said, was greater than the share for transport, in essence claiming that livestock produced more GHG emissions than all the world’s automobiles.
That was crapola. And after some scientific folks reviewed the research they found errors that even the authors of the FAO report said needed correcting. Too late. The environmental activists had their tool to inflict damage and sow doubt about livestock.
Here’s data Greenpeace won’t tell you. According to the U.N. FAO, methane emissions from beef cattle in the U.S. have decreased 34% since 1975. U.S. beef producers have also become more efficient, now producing the same amount of total pounds as they did in 1975, with one-third fewer cows.
Much of that efficiency is due to the fact Americans like their beef corn-fed, which, surprising to some, actually reduces methane emissions. Cattle fed grain-based diets produce less methane than those eating higher forage diets.
American beef is not totally grain-fed, of course, but even the pasture or forage component of beef production provides benefits – cattle eat grass and other forages humans can’t digest, converting them into protein foods. And, the long byproduct list includes soap, crayons, cosmetics, paints, surgical sutures, etc.
Every activity – whether it’s food production or ice hockey – has an environmental footprint. A blanket-ban on livestock production is not a solution to climate change or a viable alternative to feeding the world’s growing population.
Greenpeace states, “What food we eat, how much, and how that food is grown, is key to the survival of our planet.” On that point we can agree, but we also believe properly managed livestock production remains a critical component of feeding and sustaining the planet.