The impact of livestock farming beyond greenhouse gases

Why has the scientific community focused on the high level of pollution from intensive livestock farming? The latest environmental studies have associated the high levels of Greenhouse Gases (GHG) with an increase in livestock production, which turns out to be a result of changes in our society’s eating habits. The consumption of meat has reached record figures in the past few years.

When we discuss the effects of livestock farming on the land, we are usually referring to its role in climate change on account of the Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions it generates. The report “Livestock’s Long Shadow: Environmental Problems and Options” published by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) concluded that livestock activity produces 18% of the world’s greenhouse gases, a higher percentage than all transport together. This assertion, questioned internationally by several experts in this area, was due to a mistake in carrying out the integral assessment of the life cycle in transport, where FAO analysts did not include the effects on the climate of the manufacture of materials and parts of vehicles, the assembly of the same and the maintenance of roads, bridges, airports and other infrastructure, among others.

In spite of the efforts of Henning Steinfeld, the main author of the report, to clarify the affair; trying to respond with data the failure committed in 2006, the livestock sector is questioned on an ecological level and not only for its GHG emissions. But how much is true and how much is a myth in this regard? Today in our blog, we analyze all the data to get a global answer to a global problem.

The contribution of traditional livestock to climate change: myth or reality

When we analyze the climate change phenomenon, we put the focus on air pollution or the melting of the poles, but we tend to forget aspects very important as the desertification of the land or the reduction of our forests and ecosystems.

The contribution of the livestock sector to climate change has several aspects: forests, water, soil and air. This activity is responsible for the expansion of cultivated land, by eliminating extensive areas of autochthonous vegetation; being the soil the main victim of this intensive activity. The latest estimations indicate that almost 2,000 million hectares of cultivated land is used specifically as pasture land.

But not only the soil is affected by this intensive practice in constant growth, but also the use of freshwater is compromised by this activity, since agriculture, necessary to feed livestock species, uses 70% of freshwater sources. Besides, according to a recent study by the University of California, produce one kilogram of beef requires 3,700 litres of water, a scandalous figure that highlights a vital problem as is the use of natural resources of the Earth.

If we refer to the air, livestock activity generates figures of vertigo concerning the methane produced during the digestion of cattle. A cow expels about 200 grams of methane per day and that is equivalent to 5 kilograms in units of CO2. These high figures generate an important ecological impact that threatens to destabilize our ecosystem. This is just one more footprint of our production system.

The concern of these multiple impacts on the environment caused by livestock has led to the creation of alternatives that, without sacrificing meat consume, can reduce the ecological footprint of farming. Several measures have been implemented to minimise the impact of this activity on the environment, starting with the heating of the new social movements that have arisen in the face of alarming climate change. Also, initiatives such as “Meatless Monday”, consists of not eating meat on Mondays, are an important step in raising public awareness. It is also in this context that the production and imminent launch on the market of cultured meat are included, an area in which Ethicameat is a leading company in Spain. All of these actions aimed at dealing with a global problem.

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