Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Dr. Frank Mitloehner on Greenhouse Emissions from Livestock

Graph Showing World Production of Main Categories of Meat 1961-2007

Friend Dr. Nevil Speer, W. Kentucky University, alerted me to some key talks from the 2011 Annual Conference of the National Institute for Animal Agriculture, held earlier this month in San Antonio, Texas, which he moderated. Today, I've chosen to feature the presentation by Dr. Frank Mitloehner, Associate Professor and Air Quality Extension Specialist, University of California-Davis titled "The Overarching Demand for Food and Implications for Resource Use and Ecosystems." This half-hour talk truly is worth your time if you are interested in how livestock regions and methods influence their emissions which contribute to climate change. It contains many great slides (including the two used in this post) and also covers the changing diets of the world's growing population.

Graph Showing Trends in Land Used for Meat Production 1961-2001

Whereas scientists understand that intensification is key to mitigation, the public does not (excluding all other ethical issues). What Mitloehner says correlates well with yesterday's post interviewing Dr. Charles Rice.


  1. That was a great talk. I learned a lot, but also had many "Yes, but" moments. This is such a complex issue and nobody can get into all potential trade-offs involved in 30 minutes.

    Just a few things that came to mind...

    Cattle become feed conversion inefficient when eating roughage (e.g., tall, rank, low protein grass) but the point is THEY CAN EAT IT when nothing else will. For a lot of farmers this may be what they have to work with and so they pick the animal that will provide a return.

    That said, there are methods for improving feed quality in pasture and it would have been nice to get some perspective on these. I have read studies, for example, on the efficiency gains of intense rotational grazing on dairy production, and the LCA analyses I saw suggested it was a better energy return outcome than importing grain feed.

    So, in general, I was thinking, yes, intensification can be great for efficiency, do this for genetics, and reproduction and disease management, and pasture rotation, but instead of making excuses for maintaining huge CAFOs, let's work on systems that do this without the downsides of CAFOs, such as waste piles/lagoons and the misuse of low level antibiotics, plus the horrible lives of confined poultry and hogs, especially.

  2. jason
    I can relate to your comments here. This is definitely counter intuitive information, yet I learned a lot and still have some questions. Also, since one greenhouse study on emissions to the next varies so extremely, whatever the subject, I think they can all be viewed as gross estimates. As in your last paragraph, I hope that we can combine the best of Ag knowledge and progress today for a better future.