'Climate friendly' farming could do more harm than good
CONVENTIONAL farming systems could be less harmful to the environment than so-called climate change friendly alternatives such as grass-fed beef, locally produced eggs and organic milk, according to a new study by scientists in the US.
The study, carried out by Dr Jude Caper, assistant professor of dairy science at Washington State University calls for a ‘whole system approach’ when evaluating emissions rather than basing science on ‘naïve or incomplete misinformation’.
The paper said: “The environmental impact of livestock production is an issue that will remain high on the consumer, producer and political agendas for the foreseeable future.
“Environmental impact and options must therefore be evaluated using whole-system approaches based on productivity, rather than allowing ideological principles, based either on naïve or incomplete misinformation or a lack of understanding, to direct food production practices.
“All attempts to mitigate environmental impact are laudable in intent. However, attention should be focused on strategies that make a long-term, positive contribution to enhancing sustainability, rather than focusing on ‘quick-win’, low impact solutions.”
In particular, Dr Capper argues the focus should shift from the current impact per animal or per facility models, to assessing environmental impact per volume of meat or milk produced, compared to resources necessary for its production.
The paper admits while greenhouse gas emissions per cow have increased dramatically since 1944 – from 13.5kg CO2 equivalent to 27.8k - the emissions per kilogram of milk actually fell from 3.7kg in 1944 to 1.4kg in 2007.
Similarly with beef, the study claims cattle fed on pasture will not necessarily have a lower carbon footprint than corn-fed cattle, as environmental campaigners claim.
It argues the amount of energy used to produce each kilogram of animal protein is could be higher in grass-fed cattle as they have an extra energy requirement for grazing, grow more slowly and have a lower slaughter weight than those fed corn.
It also claims animals raised on pasture-based diets produce more ruminal acetic acid, and therefore more methane.