Monday, October 3, 2016

Cowgate-the Swiftboating of Livestock's Long Shadow

The world took notice when the UN Food and Agriculture Organization reported that livestock accoutned for 18% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Their report, entitled, Livestock's Long Shadow, affected myself and many other individuals. It made us realize the impact our food choices have on the environment and our health.

I have to admit that my world was a little bit shaken up after reading news articles about the so-called CowGate following a paper presentation by Dr. Mitloehner. Dr. Mitloehner criticized Livestock's Long Shadow because it performed a Life Cycle Assessment of the environmental impact of livestock production. However, in it's comparison to other industries, the UN didn't consider the other aspects of other industries. That's a good point. Perhaps, the UN miscalculated the overall percentage of global GHG attributable to livestock (although others as prominant as former World Bank scientists have found that the UN way UNDERESTIMATED the impact of livestock--and that livestock is responsible for around half of all GHG emissions.)

As Livestock's Long Shadow is central to my work, I dropped everything to look into the validity of Dr. Mitloehner's claims.

However, Dr. Mitloehner then concluded that reducing consumption of meat and dairy wouldn't reduce GHG emissions. Obviously, Dr. Mitloehner's "findings" are more suspect than the report his is criticizing.

 While Dr. Mitloehner was correct in pointing out the UN FOA unfairly performed a LCA of livestock and not other industries, the press release concerning the ACS presentation and the media coverage has drawn conclusions that are erroneous and very dangerous.

After looking into the matter, I found that Dr. Mitlohner's article arose out of a 2007 beef industry survey.  The survery  found that consumers were actually switching away from meat because of GHG emissions. Well, you can imagine how this scared the crap out of the livestock industry.

In response, the National Beef Cattlemen's Association started a PR campaign in which down home farmers told the story of how farmer's are the true conservationists.  Oh yeah and they bought themselves some "experts" too.
  • Dr. Mitloehner’s ACS press release about “Clearing the Air” was misleading and flawed
    • It failed to consider
      •  the land use implications of livestock production
      • that the US is the biggest importer of grass fed beef, and is the leading cause of deforestation in Brazil and Argentina, as well as GHG emissions problem in Australia and New Zealand.
    • It was inconsistent with previous presentation on same paper which concluded
      • Livestock is a “dominant contributor” in developing countries
      • The significant change that affects carbon levels in the United States is the conversion of agricultural lands to development, which reduces land available for carbon sequestration
  • History of  Cowgate, “Clearing the Air”
    • Prior to 2005, no beef industry surveys showed consumer concern
    • In 2007, following the release of Livestock’s Long Shadow (LLS), the beef industry group National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) was shook up by reports that consumers were willing to consume less beef due to concerns about GHG emissions
    • In 2008, the NBCA made a concerted effort to counter bad publicity with internet campaigns, and decided to commission research that would counter the negative publicity
    • In Jan 2009, the NCBA released a fact sheet to counter the findings of LLS
    • In May 2009, NBCA VP of Issues Management, Rick McCarty told the beef industry that newly commissioned research out of UC Davis would counteract the bad publicity they had received following LLS
    • October 2009, UC Davis researcher Dr. Mitloehner releases his study, “Clearing the Air” which criticizes LLS. The study was funded by the NBCA (Check-off funds).
    • Nov 2009- Dr. Mitloehner  writes an article for California Cattlemen Magazine that closely tracks the fact sheet produced by the NBCA
    • Nov. 2009 - As a result of the attacks on the relevance of LLS to the USA, beef industry lobbyists were able to successfully exempt themselves from key aspects of mandatory GHG emissions disclosure.  The beef lobby also ensured that they would not be subject to carbons tax for their part in GHG emissions.
    • March 2010- Dr. Mitloehner  presents “Clearing the Air” with misleading sound bites that criticize LLS.  He asserts without support that reducing meat consumption will not reduce GHG emissions.
    • Hundreds of media outlets and blogs cover the report, dubbing the paper Cowgate, and stating that Dr. Mitloehner work entirely discredits LLS, even though “Clearing the Air” made no such conclusions.
    • Dr. Mitloehner and UC Davis have received millions in funding from industry groups.
      • Dr. Mitloehner received direct funding in the amount of $730,000 in recent years from livestock industry groups. 
      • UC Davis’ agriculture emissions program is reliant upon industry funding as well, as his coauthor of many of his studies has also received $420,000 from industry groups to fund air emissions research.
      • He failed to disclose many of the grants on his UC Davis grant disclosure page, including grants from California Dairy Farmers, California Cattlemen Assoc. & California Feeder Council and Eli Lilly-Elanco.
      • Dr. Mitloehner also receives millions of dollars in funding from the USDA, which represents the interests of the beef and dairy industry.
      • Dr. Mitloehner’s industry funded research has also been beneficial in the past.  He  received a $500,000 from Ag Air Research Council, which is funded by the National Pork Producers Council, National Milk Producers Federation, National Chicken Council, the National Turkey Federation, United Egg Producers, and Tyson Foods.
      • The study resulted in a finding that dairy cows released half the emissions as was previously thought.
    • Dr. Mitloehner’s Press Release is Self-Serving
      • Dr. Mitloehner asserted that reducing meat and dairy consumption won’t reduce GHG emissions.  However, his research is funded by the beef and dairy industries.
      • Dr. Mitloehner’s only solution for reducing GHG emissions is increased funding of the type of research that he is performing.

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Blog header image by Dan Salamanunder, licensed under Creative Commons by-nc-nd 2.0.