April 8, 2010

Response to Professor Mitloehner

Jillian Fry

Jillian Fry

Project Director, Public Health & Sustainable Aquaculture Project

Center for a Livable Future

Dear Professor Mitloehner,

I appreciate you taking the time to respond to my post.  What you wrote was informative, but your response also raised additional questions for me.  I will lay them out here and you are welcome to respond again.

From your response:

“I did not write the press releases and feel that a lot of the recent reporting has been a line-up of catchy sound bites.”

I have spoken to researchers here at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and they report being highly involved in the creation of press releases and in making sure the documents are not only accurate, but difficult to misrepresent.  The UC Davis press release contains the following text:

“…it is simply not true that consuming less meat and dairy products will help stop climate change, says a University of California authority on farming and greenhouse gases.”

And these direct quotes:

“Producing less meat and milk will only mean more hunger in poor countries.”

“We certainly can reduce our greenhouse-gas production, but not by consuming less meat and milk.”

As I stated before, those statements are not backed up by “Clearing the Air.”  Based on the report, examples of supported statements include: (1) Livestock’s Long Shadow used flawed methods when they compared global GHG emissions from animal agriculture and transportation, and (2) due to differences between developing and developed countries, some country-level and regional analyses are significantly different than a global comparison of livestock and transportation GHG emissions.  The “catchy sound bites” in the media follow directly from the UC Davis press release (and the subsequent ACS press release).  Do the press releases accurately represent your statements?

“This key statement in LLS’s executive summary – “The Livestock sector is a major player, responsible for 18% of GHG emissions measured in CO2e. This is a higher share than transport.” – has been quoted extensively over the last few years by animal welfare and food activists, leading to Meatless Monday and other social policy initiatives. This statement has now lost its validity (see BBC report http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/8583308.stm), which is regretted by many who advocate for meatless nutrition. That’s what happens when a social or political agenda tries to use science as its sword.”

Even though a new comparison of GHGs from livestock and transportation is in the works at the UN, this does not mean eating less meat has no impact on GHGs.  To make that claim, research would need to compare GHG amounts linked to diets with different amounts of animal products and find no difference.  Again, I have not seen any such research.  Also, stating that the Meatless Monday Campaign was created in response to Livestock’s Long Shadow (or livestock GHGs in general) is incorrect.  It was created in 2003 in association with the Center for a Livable Future at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health to prevent disease by decreasing saturated fat intake.   The campaign incorporated the environmental benefits of decreased meat consumption (including GHG reduction) in its messages in 2009.  It is a public health campaign strongly rooted in scientific evidence, and twenty schools of public health have supported it for many years.

“We should not relax on any issue concerning our society’s mass consumption and what it takes to make these products available. My personal approach is to purchase to the greatest extent possible food that is produced locally and sustainably, and that includes meat and dairy products, which we purchase from producers at our local food co-op and farmer’s market. My scientific objective, however, is to find real solutions for society at large that support a reduction in greenhouse gases and other pollutants.”

I completely agree that one way to reduce environmental harms of agriculture is purchasing from local, sustainable producers and that this option is not currently available to society at large.  On the other hand, reducing meat consumption for environmental (and health) benefits is a solution available to society at large.  This is especially relevant in the US because Americans eat more meat than is recommended by USDA Dietary Guidelines (bottom of page 15).

“…”intensification of livestock production provides large opportunities for climate change mitigation and can reduce greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation, thus becoming a long-term solution to a more sustainable livestock production”. I fully concur with this statement and feel intensification will move us closer to a solution to provide nutrients to a growing population while protecting our natural resources as best we can. Intensification includes the use of improved animal nutrition, adapted livestock breeds, better health care for animals and improved hygiene – basically a second green revolution in the development world to satisfy the populations growing nutritional demands while minimizing environmental impact.”

Intensification of livestock production results in increased efficiencies in some areas, but it also results in serious environmental issues due to massive amounts of waste produced in concentrated areas; contamination of air and water; and massive amounts of water, land and pesticides used to produce grains fed to livestock.  Just as there are lasting negative consequences of the first green revolution, exporting the industrial model of food animal production to the developing world is already causing significant harm to the environment and public health.  Also, there is no need to produce more meat to provide food for a growing population.  When plants are fed to animals to produce food for humans, it decreases the amount of food available for consumption.  Shifting people’s diets so they eat lower on the food chain more often would result in more food available to feed the world because we could use a smaller proportion of our crops for food animals.  It seems like a more reasonable approach would be to produce a smaller amount of meat and animal products in an ecologically responsible way (i.e. pasture based) in a manner that makes these products available in similar amounts per capita around the world.  Why should we focus more efforts on a less efficient method of food production for the world, especially when negative environmental and health consequences result from increased production and consumption of industrially produced animal products?

Finally, I know the funding from the Beef Checkoff Program was recognized in the original press release from UC Davis.  I stated that the funding source was not disclosed in the journal publication and mainstream media.  The ACS press release did not include the information, which probably explains why news reports did not report on the funding source.  In my field, it is expected that authors include grant information when research results are published in a journal.  I looked at several other publications in Advances in Agronomy and many included grants in the acknowledgement sections.  Is there a reason the grant from Beef Checkoff was not mentioned in the journal?

Thank you again for responding to my original blog post.  Any further clarifications you can provide would be much appreciated.


Jillian Fry

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