U.s. beef industry has made long strides in reducing its carbon footprint news farmtalknewspaper.com electricity for kids

“It was an over 400 page report,” she said “It contained a lot of information. Some of it is good but, as is typical, there are just two sentences in the executive summary that got picked up by the media that are still being repeated today even though they’ve been debunked.”

Those two sentences basically say the livestock sector is a major player in greenhouse gas emissions, responsible for 18 percent of GHG emissions measured in carbon dioxide equivalents, and that this is a higher share than transport — basically, that livestock produce more GHG emissions than all the automobiles in the world.

To get to this conclusion, the U.N. FAO report used “life cycle assessment” methodology, Place said, explaining it included all the GHG emissions in the beef production chain from feed production to the consumer’s plate. It also included land use change to account for desertification and deforestation.

In the U.S., enteric methane emissions — methane emissions created naturally by rumen and digestive tract microorganisms — are about half of beef’s carbon footprint. Of these emissions, 95 to 98 percent of the methane exits the animal’s mouth.

Place showed data from the Environmental Protection Agency showing beef cattle enteric fermentation is about 1.8 percent of U.S. GHG emissions. All other agriculture accounts for 6 percent. In contrast, landfills are 1.8 percent, transportation is 26.4 percent, electricity is 28.9 percent, and all other human-caused emissions are 35.2 percent.

Though enteric methane explains why beef’s carbon footprint is higher relative to other foods, there is a “sustainability trade-off” — cattle eat what people can’t such as grasses, hay, agricultural by-products and other human inedible plant parts and convert it to high-quality protein with B vitamins, iron and zinc.

“Cattle produce more protein than they use,” Place explained, reminding ranchers of beef’s upcycling potential. For every 0.6 pounds of human edible protein cattle consume, there is a return of 1 pound of human edible protein in the form of beef. And 86 percent of what livestock eat globally is not in competition with human food, she added. Ruminants also require less human edible feed than monogastric animals such as pigs and poultry.

Another issue to consider is the 770 million acres of U.S. rangeland that is unsuitable for growing crops, Place said. In the Midwest and Northern Plains, 70.9 percent of cow-calf operations graze crop residue. In Oklahoma, Kansas and Texas, about 1.9 million cattle are grazed on small grains, so farmers are getting double-duty out of their land.

“Compared to 1975, 33 percent fewer cattle were required to produce the same amount of beef in 2015,” she said in her presentation. This is a result of precision farming and improved crop yields, genetics, nutrition and health, as well as numerous other improvements the agricultural industry has implemented over the last few decades.

“Overall, the removal of animals resulted in diets that are nonviable in the long or short term to support the nutritional needs of the U.S. population without nutrient supplementation,” she said in her presentation, citing a 2017 article by Robin R. White and Mary Beth Hall from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.