WASHINGTON, Oct. 3, 2013 - Greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) by the livestock sector could drop by as much as 30 percent through the wider use of existing best practices and technologies, according to a study released recently by the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

FAO said the report, “Tackling Climate Change Through Livestock: A Global Assessment of Emissions and Mitigation Opportunities,” represents the most comprehensive estimate of livestock’s contribution to global warming, as well as the sector’s potential to help tackle the problem. The report said GHGs associated with livestock supply chains comprise 14.5 percent of all global emissions each year.

According to the report, the main sources of livestock emissions are feed production and processing at 45 percent, digestion outputs by cows at 39 percent, manure decomposition at 10 percent, and the remainder from the processing and transportation of animal products.

FAO said it conducted an analysis of GHG emissions at multiple stages of various livestock supply chains. The report found wider adoption of existing best practices and technologies in feeding, health and husbandry, and manure management, as well as greater use of currently underutilized technologies, such as biogas generators and energy-saving devices, could help the global livestock sector cut its outputs of global warming gases.

“These new findings show that the potential to improve the sector’s environmental performance is significant, and that realizing that potential is indeed do-able,” said Ren Wang, FAO assistant director-general for Agriculture and Consumer Protection. “These efficiency gains can be achieved by improving practices, and don’t necessitate changing production systems. But we need political will, better policies and most importantly, joint action.”

Wang said that world demand for livestock products is continuing to grow strongly in most developing countries and, “it is imperative that the sector starts working now to achieve these reductions, to help offset the increases in overall emissions that future growth in livestock production will entail.”

Many of the actions FAO recommends for improving efficiency and reducing greenhouse gas emissions seek to boost production and provide people with more food and higher incomes. Substantial emission reductions could be achieved across all species, systems and regions, FAO’s report argues, with the greatest potential for cuts found in low productivity ruminant livestock systems in South Asia, Latin America and Africa.

The National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) said the report’s findings are consistent with the U.S. dairy industry’s position that the livestock sector’s greenhouse gas emissions can be managed through wider adoption of existing best management practices, as well as innovation and new technologies.

NMPF said that through the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy, dairy producers, processors, transporters, and retailers have made a shared sustainability commitment and established a voluntary goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent by 2020.

“We have already demonstrated significant efficiencies through the use of best management practices and innovations at all stages of the supply chain,” said Sarah Olson, NMPF communications manager. “These improvements have not only reduced greenhouse gas emissions, they have also enhanced the economic and social sustainability of dairy farms, businesses and communities.”

A previous FAO report, issued in 2006, found that animals produce 18 percent of global GHG emissions, but was criticized by Frank Mitloehner, professor of agriculture and natural resources at the University of California, who said its findings were questionable because it linked livestock and transportation emissions.

By contrast, he said the latest report has a more refined methodology and is more “palatable” overall. Mitloehner noted while the report found significant global emissions from animals, it offered ways to mitigate and reduce those emissions.

He said livestock emissions are significantly lower in the United States than most countries. For instance, he said one cow in California makes the same amount of milk as five cows in Mexico or 20 cows in India.

The American Feed Industry Association said it found the report release “slightly surprising and untimely” because FAO is in the process of conducting a Livestock Environment Assessment Program, which aims to provide a detailed model for determining the environmental impact of feeds and feed ingredients.


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