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Executive Director's Message
GHG emissions from livestock are a regular theme from anti meat activists. This year has seen increased intensity of articles being published that emphasise this aspect of livestock production. Some weeks ago, a new journal article and a number of supportive media and blog articles pointed out that livestock methane is currently being accounted for in a way that exaggerates its contribution to climate change, and proposing a new fairer way to account for it.
However, while there was rigorous science behind that argument, it was not picked up by the mainstream media, while other less well researched papers, lacking scientific evidence, but supporting livestock opponents are quoted endlessly.
During our last board call, a member highlighted one recent article published by the "Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy" (see article HERE). IATP is not an institute in the sense that many may understand it, and the article does not present new research findings, and the comparisons they make between meat and dairy processing companies and oil companies are at the very least misleading, as they include all upstream and downstream livestock emissions. The figures they use for oil and gas companies are taken from this report which is actually much more scientific and informative.
IATP, however, are very selective in how they make their comparisons. The largest fossil fuel company they quote is Exxon with emissions of 577 GtCO2 e, whereas the carbon majors report lists 8 fossil fuel companies with higher emissions, which combined emit more than ten times GtCO2 e than Exxon. Let us also be clear, the Carbon Major Report demonstrates that fossil fuel companies have been responsible for 62% of global industrial GHGs since the industrial revolution, and many of the emissions included in that figure are now being attributed by IATP to milk and meat processors.
While it is not clear how this IATP report was funded, it is clear that they have deliberately been selective in the information taken from Carbon Majors Report to make milk and meat producers appear to be equally or even greater contributors to GHG emissions, which is manifestly false. It does not require a huge leap of imagination to understand who the beneficiaries of such a report might be, though it does leave the question of why IATP would be willing to put their name to it.
IATP's use of FAO stat figures is also selective. Total emissions from beef and dairy in the USA have declined since 1975, while production of both has increased (2% increase in beef with 46% decrease in emissions, 46% increase in milk with 19% decrease in emissions) (FAO figures provided by Dr Sara Place from NCBA), whereas in the fossil fuel sector a huge acceleration in the extraction of fossil fuels has doubled their contribution to global warming since 1988 (Carbon Majors Report.)
Many GRSB members have been working and continue to work to improve all aspects of the sustainability of beef production. Considerable improvements have been made in the last decades, and commitments have been made to reduce emissions going forward. Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of the IATP article is that while the organisation claims to support family farmers around the world, the impact of an article such is this leads to condemnation of beef cattle producers around the world, who are still overwhelmingly family operations.
Susan Macmillan of ILRI has written eloquently on the need to recognise the role of livestock in livelihood and food systems around the world, and this recent article specifically discusses the need to counter the increasing anti–livestock rhetoric in western media.
Macmillan says "To paraphrase Oscar Wilde, some Western media pundits appear to know the (environmental) price of everything but nothing of the (real) value farm animals bring to millions of impoverished people."