California expert to head effort to measure livestock impact

By Jim Webster

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WASHINGTON, July 5, 2012 - Frank Mitloehner, the California-Davis air quality expert who challenged a 2006 UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) report that wildly exaggerated the environmental impact of livestock, has been named chairman of an FAO-led partnership that will improve how environmental impacts of the livestock industry are measured and assessed.

“This is a vital and necessary first step in improving the sustainability of this important food production sector,” says Mitloehner, an associate professor and air quality extension specialist in the Department of Animal Science at Davis. FAO announced the partnership July 4 along with the American Feed Industry Association (AFIA), the International Feed Industry Federation (IFIF) and the European Compound Feed Manufacturers' Federation (FEFAC).

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Mitloehner gained a wide following in 2009 when he faulted the assertion in an FAO report, “Livestock's Long Shadow,” that livestock emitted more greenhouse gases (GHGs)than transportation. After he pointed out an error in calculation, FAO authors retracted the claim but critics of modern agriculture have continued to parrot the idea that cattle cause global warming.

“We need to convince our people here that what they have in their heads is not sound science, but rather the imagination of some activists,” he said last year. “Livestock production in the U.S. is a model for the rest of the world in terms of efficiency” and increasing protein production.

In their announcement, the feed industry trade associations said that animal products “make a crucial contribution to the economic and nutritional wellbeing of millions of people around the world - particularly in developing countries.” FAO estimates that meat consumption will to rise nearly 73 percent by 2050 and dairy consumption will grow 58 percent over current levels.

Mitloehner said that the FAO offer to cooperate with the private sector, governments and civil society groups would “help bring about a robust, harmonized methodological approach on measuring GHG emission linked to livestock production, which would be a tremendous step forward in helping feed companies to develop credible and consistent calculation tools.”

AFIA President and CEO Joel Newman said the feed industry proposed to set up a life cycle analysis (LCA) database for animal feed ingredients that would make a key contribution to improve the overall data quality in present LCA analysis. Because many different methods now are used to measure environmental impacts of animal raising, it's difficult to compare results and set priorities for the continuous improvement of environmental performance along supply chains.

The initial three-year phase of the project hopes to reach agreement on science-based methods and guidelines to quantify livestock's carbon footprint, create a database of GHG emission factors generated in production animal feed, developing a methodology for measuring other important environmental impacts such as water consumption and nutrient losses, and launch a communications campaign to promote use of the partnership's methodologies and findings.

Mitloehner provided background for a Council on Agricultural Science and Technology paper Mitloehner last year that describes the impact of livestock and on quality. See http://www.cast-science.org/news/index.cfm/new_air_issues_presentation_available_now_on_video?show=news&newsID=11735

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