DAIRY cows are not the environmental villains they are often portrayed to be, according to a comprehensive UN study into dairy emissions.
A new report, from the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), has found cows are responsible for only 2.7 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. The figure rises to four percent if emissions related to meat produced from dairy animals are included.
The report, Greenhouse gas emissions from the dairy sector, was commissioned in response to calls from the dairy sector for more information after the publication of the FAO’s controversial Livestock’s Long Shadow report in 2006.
That report claimed 18 percent of all greenhouse emissions were caused by the livestock sector – a figure used widely by environmental campaigners but disputed by the livestock industry.
Jim Begg, Dairy UK director general, said the latest study ‘shed light on the true impact of dairy farming on the environment’. “In producing some of the nation’s most popular and nutritious foods, dairy cows, milk tankers and dairies emit less than 2.7 percent of the world’s greenhouse gases.
“Of course, we’re still working to lower that figure, but the report shows that the industry’s critics are the ones really producing hot air.”
Mr Begg said the dairy industry had worked hard to improve its environmental footprint through initiatives such as the UK’s Milk Roadmap which set tough targets to slash cow emissions.
“The FAO has confirmed that northern Europe is one of the most efficient regions in the world to produce milk,” he said.
The study covers the entire dairy food chain, including the production and transport of inputs used for dairy farming, on-farm emissions and emissions associated with milk processing and packaging as well as the transportation of milk products to retailers.
“This report is fundamental to understand and identify opportunities for reducing the environmental impact of the dairy sector while providing safe and nutritious foodstuffs,” said Samuel Jutzi, from the FAO.
The assessment is part of an ongoing program to analize and recommend options for climate change mitigation.
Emissions from buffalo, poultry, small ruminants and pigs will form the basis of the next FAO study. A final report will be published in 2011.