Intensive livestock production could reduce GHG emissions

 Resize text         Printer-friendly version of this article Printer-friendly version of this article

A study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences provides more evidence that livestock-production systems that incorporate higher-quality concentrated feeds, such as grains, could provide the most efficient means toward desirable climate and food-availability outcomes. Researchers from the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA)  conducted the study.

In their report titled “Climate change mitigation through livestock system transitions,” the researchers note that globally, land-use change accounts for the largest portion of livestock production’s carbon footprint. This occurs when natural areas, such as forests in developing countries, are removed to create new grazing lands for livestock, resulting in loss of carbon storage and release of greenhouse gasses (GHG) through burning and decay of native vegetation.

The authors note that using higher-energy diets in livestock production means more livestock can be raised on less land, with fewer emissions per pound of meat or milk produced. Shifting global livestock production to mixed systems feeding grass and higher quality feed, rather than in pure grass-based systems, would lead to a 23 percent reduction of emissions from land-use change in the next two decades without any explicit climate mitigation policy.

Most effective climate policies involving livestock would be those targeting emissions from land-use change, the researchers conclude. “To minimize the economic and social cost, policies should target emissions at their source—on the supply side—rather than on the demand side.”

Wording it another way in an IIASA release , IIASA researcher Petr Havlík who led the study says “There is a lot of discussion about reduction of meat in the diets as a way to reduce emissions. But our results show that targeting the production side of agriculture is a much more efficient way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

Read the full report from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Comments (5) Leave a comment 

e-Mail (required)


characters left

Wyo  |  February, 26, 2014 at 08:08 AM

Always disappointing when beef industry folks buy into a hoax.

Stephen Smith    
College Station, TX  |  February, 26, 2014 at 10:21 AM

Graybull doesn't understand that the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences is one of the most highly respected and objective scientific publications in the world. Their articles are subjected to intense peer review. This is not a hoax.

Wyo  |  February, 26, 2014 at 11:30 AM

Dr. Smith……..apologize for my wording. The research is NOT the hoax. The hoax is what generated the research in the first place.

February, 26, 2014 at 03:54 PM

Cattlemen have a unique opportunity ahead of them, if only more of them could become independent of the big three packers. Better climate change mitigation will come as cattlemen re-realize their intrinsic role in it. If the millions of acres of land that have been cleared for crop production since WWII were returned to their former status as grasslands and wooded areas, we would see more stable micro-climates. Regional macro-climates are made up of thousands of local micro-climates. Corn and soybean production usually leaves the soil bare and unprotected during the winter months, contributing to spring floods and summer droughts. To take land out of the crops grown to fuel the feedlots and return it to perennial grasses that protect the soil year-round is the best way to stabilize soil, water and climate. Silviculture is a very effective way to create a perennial food system while stabilizing micro-climates. Growing pines and/or food producing trees along with perennial pastures protects soil, water, and animals, providing windbreaks and shade. Feedlots certainly produce more beef on fewer acres per head, but it takes vast acreages of corn and soybeans grown on open land to feed those animals. The soil that grows those crops gets nothing back from the manure of the animals it feeds. Once in the feedlots, the animals can do nothing to return fertility to the land that feeds them, as they do while they are grazing well-managed pastures. Hence feedlots do not abide by the law of return. After sixty or seventy years, the manmade nitrogen/row-crop/feedlot paradigm is proving to be an unrealistic solution based on cheap petroleum, cheap artificial nitrogen and cheap transportation, none of which have remained cheap.

KS  |  February, 28, 2014 at 11:09 AM

W.E. I understand where you are coming from but you error in the fact that you blame all of the land that is taken out for crops on feedlots. Unless you haven't noticed the ethanol industry has taken a big chunk of the corn to make fuel. We are all in this together and everyone has to share in the benefits/disadvantages.