Source: Ohio State University
Just as Prius hybrid cars are more efficient than conventional vehicles, modern dairy cows are more efficient and have a lower environmental impact. While many people believe that cows are large producers of greenhouse gases (GHG), dairy cattle in the U.S. and Europe contribute very small amounts of methane to national GHG emissions while producing significant amounts of nutritious dairy products for people to consume.
Seven-fold reductions in methane per gallon of milk produced have been achieved by innovations in dairy farming over the past 100 years, including improvements in genetics, health, nutrition, facilities, and crop production. The impact of these innovations has been summarized and quantified by Dr. Joanne Knapp, an expert in sustainable livestock and poultry agriculture, and her colleagues. It is published as the feature article in the June issue of the peer-reviewed Journal of Dairy Science and titled "Enteric methane in dairy cattle production: Quantifying the opportunities and impact of reducing emissions." You can read the paper here.
Co-authors include Bill Weiss (The Ohio State University), Gina Laur and Peter Vadas (USDA), and Juan Tricarico (Dairy Management Inc.) The work was supported in part by The Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy.
Applying the same approaches and basic principles to livestock agriculture around the world would improve the environmental sustainability of food production. Animal products are part of a healthy diet, and global demand for them is increasing as people move out of poverty and into the middle class. Feeding a growing human population requires more efficient animal production, not less production.