The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations pegs the global dairy sector contribution to greenhouse gas emissions (GHC) at 2.7%. If you add in the meat production of the sector, the contribution climbs to 4%.
FAO estimates GHG per kilogram of milk to be 2.4 kg of carbon dioxide equivalent. The estimate has a margin of error is +/- 26%. Methane emissions account for about half of the CHGs, says FAO.
In 2007, the dairy sector emitted 1,969 million metric tones of CO2 equivalent, with two-third of that attributed to milk production. About 7.7% was attributed to cull cows, and remainder to dairy bull calves raised for meat.
In 2006, FAO estimated all livestock production contributed 18% of GHG globally. But that report has come under heavy criticism for making those comparisons to GHG to transportation, and not accounting for world wide power generation and other GHG emissions.
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Statement from the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy on the FAO Report
Today, the FAO released its report, "Greenhouse Gas Emissions from the Dairy Sector — A Life Cycle Assessment.” It states that approximately 4.1 percent of total global GHG emissions are related to the global dairy sector. This figure includes emissions associated with milk production, processing and transportation as well as the emissions from meat production from dairy-related culled and fattened animals.
Considering just global milk production, processing and transportation and excluding meat production, the global dairy sector contributes 2.7% of global GHG emissions, according to the new report.
This new data cited for the global dairy sector is good news for dairy because it is significantly less than the 18% figure cited for global livestock agriculture in the November, 2006 FAO report, "Livestock's Long Shadow – Environmental Issues and Options.” The 18% number has often been inaccurately attributed to dairy GHG emissions.
In the United States, work is underway through the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy to build a foundation of credible data to help tell consumers about the long-standing commitment of dairy farmers — and the entire industry — to the environment. The Innovation Center has been working with the University of Arkansas Applied Sustainability Center and other experts to determine GHG emissions for U.S. dairy, beginning with a comprehensive life cycle assessment (LCA) for fluid milk. Based on preliminary research the U.S. dairy industry shared with FAO, the University of Arkansas attributes an estimated 2 percent of total U.S. GHG emissions to U.S. dairy.
This is important, because research shows that consumers want to know the producers of the products they buy care about the environment. It further indicates that, when consumers believe that dairy is not only nutritious, delicious and delivered at a good value, but is also environmentally friendly, they intend to purchase more dairy.
The Innovation Center's research and commitment to continue working voluntarily to reduce greenhouse gas emissions across the entire U.S. dairy supply chain provide the support we need to tell dairy's good story.
Regarding the timing of the Innovation Center's LCA report …
In support of the industry's commitment to sustainability, the Applied Sustainability Center at the University of Arkansas is completing a greenhouse gas (GHG) life cycle assessment (LCA) of fluid milk for the U.S. dairy industry.
This LCA is already being recognized as an important contribution to LCA science.
· The U.S. dairy industry LCA is following ISO (International Organization for Standardization) standards, which are widely supported by environmental scientists.
The critical review has been conducted by leading experts in LCA science from the University of Michigan, the University of Iowa, and Sylvatica, an LCA research and consulting firm.
Abstracts have been accepted for presentation at the 7th International Conference on Life Cycle Assessment in the Agri-Food Sector (September 22-24, 2010 in Italy).
A series of articles based on the detailed findings of the life cycle assessment will be submitted for publication in peer-reviewed journals in 2010, with publication expected in 2011.
This LCA measures the GHG emissions of fluid milk from farm to table, which includes everything from what is fed to cows through how a consumer disposes of a milk container. This comprehensive effort gathered data from more than 500 farms and 50 processing plants across the United States, while analyzing 150,000 round trips transporting milk from farm to processor.
When completed, the LCA will provide the industry with a scientific baseline of the carbon footprint of fluid milk in each part of the supply chain so that we can continue to improve the business value of our industry, reduce GHG emissions, and provide products that are healthy for people and the planet.
The data will serve as the foundation for the creation of best practices and decision-support tools for farmers, processors, and others throughout the dairy supply chain.