Forget all that indecorous talk of animal flatulence, cow burps, vegetarianism and global warming. Welcome to Cowgate.
Lower consumption of meat and dairy products will not have a major impact in combating global warming — despite persistent claims that link such diets to more greenhouse gases. So says a report presented Monday before the American Chemical Society.
It is the bovine version of Climategate, complete with faulty science and noisy activists with big agendas.
Cows and pigs have gotten a "bum rap," said Frank Mitloehner, an air quality expert at the University of California at Davis who authored the report. He is plenty critical of scientists and vegetarian activists such as Paul McCartney who insist that livestock account for about a fifth of all greenhouse-gas emissions.
He also is critical of highly-publicized campaigns that call for "meatless Mondays" or push the motto "Less Meat = Less Heat," a European campaign launched in December during the Copenhagen climate summit. Talk of pricey air pollution permits of a "cow tax" for already cash-strapped farmers has surfaced in the U.S. and abroad.
Mr. Mitloehner said the claims that livestock are to blame for global warming are both "scientifically inaccurate" and a dangerous distraction from more important issues.
He has traced the problem back to a 2006 United Nations report, "Livestock's Long Shadow," that read: "The livestock sector is a major player, responsible for 18 percent of greenhouse gas emissions measured in CO2e (carbon dioxide equivalents). This is a higher share than transport."
Yes, livestock are major producers of methane, one of the greenhouse gases. But Mr. Mitloehner faults the methodology of the U.N. report, contending that the calculations were off.
In the report, the damning livestock "emissions" included those of the digestive variety — along with gases produced by growing animal feed and actual meat and milk processing. But the transportation analysis factored in only fossil fuel emissions from cars.
"This lopsided analysis is a classical apples-and-oranges analogy that truly confused the issue," Mr. Mitloehner said.
Livestock burps have been vilified for a decade, however.
In 2000, Australian scientists reported that cows and sheep created 90 percent of methane emissions in that nation. German scientists went so far as to create fist-sized indigestion pills for their burping cows. Two years ago, Argentine scientists resorted to strapping plastic tanks to the backs of their cows to collect and measure their gaseous outputs.
"We certainly can reduce our greenhouse-gas production, but not by consuming less meat and milk. Producing less meat and milk will only mean more hunger in poor countries," Mr. Mitloehner said.
The focus of confronting climate change, he said, should be on smarter farming, not less farming.
"The developed world should focus on increasing efficient meat production in developing countries where growing populations need more nutritious food. In developing countries, we should adopt more efficient, Western-style farming practices to make more food with less greenhouse gas production," Mr. Mitloehner said.
His advice? Enough about cow burps. Developed countries should reduce use of oil and coal for electricity, heating and vehicle fuels, he said, noting that transportation creates an estimated 26 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. Raising cattle and pigs for food accounts for about 3 percent.
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