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Livestock’s Impact on Greenhouse Gasses and California’s Rangelands

By Theresa Becchetti and Sheila Barry, University of California Cooperative Extension “Livestock’s Long Shadow”, a United Nations Report, released by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in 2006 stated that livestock produced more greenhouse gases than transportation worldwide. The report shocked and outraged many involved in livestock production, including University of California’s Air Quality Specialist, Frank Mitloehner. His research indicated that a much smaller percent of greenhouse gases (GHG) were coming from cattle. The emissions from cows is often mistakenly called “cow farts,” however methane emissions from cows comes primarily from “belching”.  Ruminant animals including cattle, sheep, goats, deer, bison, elk etc. have billions of microbes in their rumens, which operate like a large fermentation vat in their digestive system.  While these microbes allow ruminant digestive systems to make protein, energy and even vitamins from low quality feeds, they also produce methane, which is released by belching. Dr. Mitloehner found that the FAO report compared the entire production cycle for livestock, with only tail pipe emissions for transportation, ignoring the emissions associated with the manufacturing of vehicles.  The author acknowledged his errors, yet Livestock’s Long Shadow still casts a shadow of misinformation over animal production thirteen years later.   Following are some facts, stemming from Dr. Mitloehner’s research, to help put things in perspective: In California, 8% of the state’s GHG emissions come from agriculture (livestock and crops), residential and commercial activities generate 11%, while 80% of emissions are from transportation, electricity, and industry with 1% unidentified.  Out of the state’s agriculture 8%, half is from all of livestock production.  Other researchers (White and Hall 2017) have calculated that...