Agriculture and Meat : our usual suspects for environmental issues

Since the 2010’s, Agriculture, and livestock role in our global warming anthropogenic part is better understood. We all read about cattle methane production, and its role in CO2eq emissions. I’m a cattle veterinarian, living in Belgium, both clinician and researcher in this field, I will have a little reflexion, for friends trying to stop the planet’s problems by incriminating Meat … 🌡📈 My point of view to say that we cannot mitigate the role of each contributing sector, but to idnetify meat as the sole representative of global warming responsability, i

Belgium CO2eq emitters by sectors

Basics: average “Theoretical” caloric needs of an average sedentary (I know a guy who…)
1772 kcal female📉
2300kcal male 📈

“Real” European meat consumption
88g / d female
132g /d male

Average caloric value of Meat:
196–230 kcal / 100g, which is roughly 10–15% of the theoretical diet of an average Homo sapiens. Probably less in reality, given the epidemic of obesity. So 85–95% of its global food impact is caused by all other foods, none of which are neutral in an environmental point of view, neither a Strawberry produced in greenhouse/hydroponic, or an advocado that came by plane/boat. And it gets worse with the packaging … (Small advert for local butcher’s meat, without packaging).

In fact the only way to be neutral would be to eat your garden grass, because it’s already there, renewable. That’s what cows do. 😉 But in reality, we use current/oil to mow the grass ourselves…

Yet only While :
1) methane (including agricultural) would be in negative equilibrium (net capture) if we did not have fossil fuel 🌳🌲🌿🐑🐄🐂

This is well made by the fact that pasture is loaded with carbon where conventional cropland is becoming dangerously poor.

I invite, for the exercice, the skeptics to ask why South America, one of the world’s 🌎 leading meat producers, is one of the lowest producers of CO2 in the world …? 🙏

Since 2006, methane production/accumulation curve raised higly, and some observers are saying that farming is probably the reason, fact that I’ll try to discuss.

2) agricultural emissions in our countries represent 10–15% of global emissions but are based on natural carbon sinks (vegetation). Livestock is still only a part of these emissions … 🍽 Yet all the websites dedicated to the subject identifiy clearly between 70 and 90% of all CO2 emissions or equivalent due to Fossile fuel combustion, but yet, recently, Agriculture is still the usual suspect…

Concentration of CO2 and projections in atmosphere
(Source : U.S. Global Change Research Program : Lüthi et al.; Tans; IIASA2)

The main reason is the accountancy of figures, they group usually Agriculture, along with , Land use and Land Change, and Forestry. If we would look at Belgium figures for, Agriculture has a single impact of 10% on global CO2eq impact. So how, since Belgium is an extremely intensive agriculture country (except for Beef production), we are still confronted with higher figures? How is it possible on one side to have a lot of animal/capita and still maintain a low impact of Agriculture?

(Source : GIEC, 2014 — Données de 2010)

Well, it’s quite simple, Landfill and Waste are a huge source of CO2eq, as well as deforestation to crops. Nevertheless, deforestation to grassland has a positive impact shown by several authors. Despite, In most industrialised countries, forest are growing, as well as in China and India.

Since 1980, all industrialised countries diminished there Cattle population due to increase help of Zootechny and Agronomy, genetic selection and increased yields of crops. Thus, the average Cattle population in US droped by 40 million heads, Europe dropped also by several millions of Cattle.

Though, Methane remain the target of all communication in that domain. Thus, the enteric fermentation specific to ruminants digesting vegetal fibers produce methane. That noxious gas, showing a warming potential of 25 gCO2eq per gCH4. Well, as shown by recent studies, and CO2 accountacy, if methane in noxious, its lifespan in atmosphere is short due to its oxydation in CO2 in less than a decade. Secondly, grassland, crops are a huge Carbon sink, accounting with forest for 20% compensation of all the world emissions according the experts.

Evolution since 2010 of kT CO2eq production per sector (figure of 2017, Belgium)

In the 1500, Buffalo population in North America was estimated to ~60 Millions animals, not accounting all the wild ruminants at that time, europeans nearly eradicated that specie with diseases and hunting, and nowadays, north-America has 100 millions ruminants. Meanwhile, whether we like it of not, the territory EU/US raised it’s number of anthropogenic carbon sinks linked to farming, and we crushed down since 1980 the overall counts of Cattle on earth surface, the main methane source according to some people.

My question is therefore simple : How to explain, a diminution in counts, a previous ruminants population nearly equivalent to domestic population, a compensation based on grassland/crops vegetal production, and yet, a raise since 2006 in Methane?

My question is therefore simple : How to explain, a diminution in counts, a previous ruminants population nearly equivalent to domestic population, a compensation based on grassland/crops vegetal production, and yet, a raise since 2006 in Methane?

3) So when we are talking of cattle and its responsability in global warming, we should also undestand that it’s the only carbon source maintaining its own Carbon sink… Which is not the case of a car, a litre of fuel, a fridge, a movie night or a plane ticket. There are a billion useful measures on the climate and the economy before attempting to move the Planet with livestock. A simple measure:
Heating and insulation, could be favouritizing strictly low CO2 cars etc …

If you analyze the subisidies available on the subject, it’s light and the risk on a long term, is to target a really efficient source of Nutrients for the coming 9 Billions people, destroy the sector by abolishing passion of farming due to the critics, and yet change absolutely nothing to CO2, because the emissions and sinks are linked in that area…

4) We should beware, that agriculture is an extremely complex topic, involving tens of technical fields to master. It’s also mainly transmitted in family, and reduced to 0,5–1,5% of active population, responsible for 100% of food production. Not to say that nowadays, the food producing know-how has been lost by 90% of the population of industrialised world. In a food safety approach, killing our main food producers represent an immediate danger, already seen several times in history, with war and geopolitical tensions associated with loss of food autonomy.

Not to say that nowadays, the food producing know-how has been lost by 90% of the population of industrialised world

We should also beware, to realize that in an open world, undermining one’s efficient neighbor trying to save the planet, is a guarantee that another country will take over, being more polluting and less effective.
ex: shutdown of nuclear power plants ♣ ️ did not reduce energy needs, but made them more polluting🔺🔺 … (Coal plants) For the record, that happened a lot since the early 2000…

5) For those who “want to drown their dog, we can always say that he has rabies” (french proverb). But just a dog 🐕 or a cat 🐈 in industrialized countries, analyzed as we analyze cattle breeding, has the annual impact of a large SUV 🚙 … is it for that reason that we will kill our companions ? 🔴🔴🔴

To be debated…

Eat local, known, trusted sources, keep faith in farmers that nourrish the land every day. And measure heating and displacements, to have a real impact for our future.♻️

World emissions of CO2

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