Environmentally Friendly Meat
ENVIRONMENTALLY FRIENDLY MEAT
51% and more of global greenhouse-gas emissions are caused by animal agriculture. Animal agriculture is the practice of breeding animals for the production of animal products. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has shown that animal agriculture is globally the single largest source of methane emissions. Farm animals produce methane during digestion as well as from their excrete. Methane is over 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide in trapping heat in the atmosphere. The industry also contributes 65% of nitrous oxide emissions which is about 300times more potent than carbon dioxide.
The environmental cost of animal farming cycle
Farm animals consume large amounts of grain and water. They’re then killed, processed, transported, and then stored. Production and processing of animal feed includes land use and enteric fermentation which are the two main sources of emissions, representing 45% and 39% of total emissions, respectively. Enteric fermentation is the digestive process for ruminant animals where methanogens decompose and ferment food in the digestive tract producing compounds that are absorbed by the animal and release methane through their excrete. Manure storage and processing represent 10%. The remainder is attributable to processing and transportation of animal products. The whole chain is energy intensive.
According to Food and Organisation of United Nations (FAO), cattle alone represent majority emissions of the livestock sector at 65%. About 20% of the sector’s emissions are attributed to the supply chain of the industry which consumes fuel. The remaining emissions are attributed to other ruminant meat, milk and poultry species and non-edible products. Emission intensities vary from commodity to commodity as well as from region to region due to the different practices and inputs to production. Note that animals raised by “organic” methods emit even more methane than animals on factory farms do. About 44% of livestock emissions are in form of methane. This makes meat-consumers responsible for almost twice as many dietary greenhouse-gas emissions per day as compared to vegetarians and vegans. Persons who eat more than 1.5kilogramms (kgs) of meat per day generate 7.2kgs of carbon-dioxide equivalent each day, whereas vegetarians and vegans are responsible for 3.9kgs and 2.9kgs of carbon dioxide emissions, respectively. Vegans generate 41.7% less greenhouse gases than meat-consumers.
Can animal products be sustainably consumed?
The intensity of emissions produced is directly linked to the efficiency with which animal farmers use natural resources and production systems. There is a wide variability in production practices, even within similar production systems. These variations create “an emission intensity gap” in animal farming. FAO estimates that reducing this gap within existing production systems could cut emissions by about 30%. Mitigation interventions therefore need to be tailored to individual farmers’ objectives and conditions since interventions to reduce emissions are dependent on technologies and practices of farmers.
How do we do it?
Available mitigation options discussed in FAO’s assessment include improving animal breeds to enhance production efficiency. This can be done by using better feeds and feeding techniques, which reduce methane generated during digestion as well as the amount of methane and nitrous oxide released by decomposing manure. Farmers should also consider shrinking their herd sizes in favor of less but improved animal breeds with better health to facilitate more production.
Management of animal excrete ought to be prioritized to ensure recovery and recycling of nutrients and energy. This should be done alongside use of energy saving devices to reduce carbon emissions.
Mitigation efforts should be directed towards grassland carbon sequestration. Proper management of grazing lands improves productivity and creates carbon sinks with the potential to offset livestock sector emissions. Forests/trees should be planted around pasturelands to absorb more emissions. Good agricultural support services and technologies facilitate change of practices enhancing mitigation and production by building farmers’ capacity to implement them. This can be done through communication, training, demonstration farms and establishing producers’ networks for knowledge sharing. For example Warren Catchments Council has been working with local farmers in analysing effects of feeding cattle small portions of hardwood biochar and using dung beetles to bury charcoal infused manure.
Immediate reduction in odors from the dairy were realized, suggesting anti-methanogenic bacteria in the rumen may be assisting in the conversion of methane to energy and the reduction in emitted methane. Investment in research and development by governments and various institutions builds an evidence base for mitigation, intervention and technologies. This will refine existing technologies and practices to increase their applicability. It will also increase the supply of new and improved mitigation technologies and practices. Financial incentives like subsidies, carbon credit markets or emissions tax like carbon tax, tradable permits will cut farm animal emissions.
Economically, efficient mechanisms for incentivizing the adoption of mitigation technologies and practices like soft loans for initial investments will motivate farmers. Market friction instruments that involve measures that seek to increase the flow of information about the emissions associated with different livestock commodities like labelling schemes. For example, information put on packages of goods (feed sources) to enable consumers and producers know their consumption and production preferences with the emission profiles of these commodities.
Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Actions for livestock at national level should be developed to enable countries develop sectoral mitigation policies that integrate other development objectives, and seek international support towards their implementation. Binding international agreements such as with UNFCCC that provide high level incentives to mitigate animal emissions and ensure mitigation efforts are shared between various sectors of the economy will facilitate emission reductions. This goes hand in hand with raising awareness about livestock’s role in tackling climate change which will influence and promote the various mitigation policy development for the sector.
All things considered, vegan food seems to offer the best solution to reducing animal emissions. However, doing away with animal farming altogether is not a viable option. Animal farming not only employs millions of people, it is a way of life for many. To advocate for eradication of animal farming is to deny many a means of livelihood. Animal emissions can be contained in time with concerted international efforts.
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ENVIRONMENTALLY FRIENDLY MEAT 51% and more of global greenhouse-gas emissions are caused by animal agriculture. Animal agriculture is the practice of breeding animals for the production of animal products. The […]