A major goal of this workshop was to bring nutritional and environmental scientists together and advance the discussion about the intersection of health and the environment as it pertains to food. To initiate the workshop discussion, the first session was focused on defining the relationship and identifying the synergies and trade-offs between healthy eating and environmental impacts. This chapter summarizes the presentations and discussions that occurred during that session. Workshop participants considered the environmental costs of the food system, how those costs might change if nutrition was improved and the U.S. dietary guidelines were met, and the bi-directional relationship between health and the environment (i.e., the understanding that while diet impacts the environment, the environment also impacts diet).
The first speaker, Dr. Barbara Burlingame from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations (UN), viewed the subject from a global perspective, emphasizing the important role of ecosystems and food biodiversity in sustaining healthy diets. She described the FAO’s recognition of the link between biodiversity and nutrition and presented several examples of disappearing food biodiversity. Disappearing food biodiversity is more than an environmental loss; it is also a loss of micronutrient resources. Burlingame was also the first of several speakers who emphasized the environmental implications of food waste, along food chains and in food systems, including “metabolic” food waste associated with consumption in excess of requirements manifested as with overweight and/or obesity.
Are there enough fish in the sea? Cynthia M. Jones from Old Dominion University discussed U.S. dietary recommendations for fish and shellfish and the likely environmental implications of meeting the recommended daily intakes of fish and shellfish (i.e., two servings of fish per week) from fish available from U.S. waters. Currently, the United States imports a majority of the seafood that is consumed. She concluded that U.S. dietary recommendations may exceed current U.S. domestic fish production, and overall global production does not meet global need. Although Jones foresees more sustainable production in the future, she is not hopeful that the increased global production will be enough to bridge the gap.
The final speaker of the session, Frank Mitloehner from the University of California, Davis, discussed greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions associated with the consumption of animal protein (eggs, meat, milk), emphasizing country and regional variation in the percentage of overall GHG emissions contributed by the livestock sector. He strongly urged not using global average data on GHG emissions to develop policies. He explained how this variation reflects variation in production due to differences in breeding, diet, and veterinary care (i.e., some animals produce more meat products than others) and the generally inverse relationship between production and GHG emissions (i.e., animals that produce more emit less per unit of production). He argued that “sustainable intensification” can help to decrease the number of animals required per kilogram of product.
Also included in this chapter is a summary of the discussion sparked by these presentations. Most of the discussion focused on the livestock GHG emissions data that Mitloehner presented, with a couple of additional questions about the fisheries data presented by Jones about FAO strategies for addressing natural resource issues related to food.
Key Themes of This Chaptera
• The trade-offs between eating patterns and environmental impact are two-way. Eating patterns impact the environment, but the environment also impacts dietary choice (e.g., loss of food biodiversity impacts the availability of micronutrients). (Burlingame)
• There are not enough fish in U.S. waters for all U.S. consumers to meet the recommended daily intake for fish. Global production is partially filling this gap, but the hazards associated with the methods being used for fish production are unclear. (Jones)
• Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from livestock production as a percentage of total GHG emissions vary regionally and nationally, partly because of geographic differences in deforestation rates but also because of differences in productivity (i.e., some animals produce more GHG emissions per unit of production than others). (Mitloehner)
• Care should be taken when choosing which data to use when measuring GHG emissions as environmental impacts of the food system. (Mitloehner)
a Key themes identified during discussions, presenter(s) attributed to statement indicated by parenthesis “( ).”
Barbara Burlingame provided a global perspective on health and environmental benefits, synergies, and trade-offs, emphasizing the role of biodiversity in sustaining healthy diets. She began by illustrating the consequences of current diet, environment, and agriculture practices. Approximately 900 million people worldwide are hungry, 2 billion people have micronutrient deficiencies, and another 1.5 billion people are overweight or obese (Burlingame and Dernini, 2012; FAO, 2012a). Ecosystems have been degraded and biodiversity lost, in some cases forever. In other instances agriculture has been made unsustainable by monoculture,2 intensive livestock industries, and excessive use of agricultural chemicals, inefficiencies, and waste. She stated that dietary patterns and some environmental and agricultural practices in current use are no longer sustainable.
The FAO has been monitoring the number of hungry people worldwide for a couple of decades. From the early 1990s to the present, much of the world has seen a reduction in the number of hungry people, with
1 This section summarizes information presented by Barbara Burlingame, Ph.D., Food and Agriculture Organization, United Nations, Rome, Italy.
2 Monoculture is the agricultural practice of producing or growing a single crop or plant species over a wide area and for a large number of consecutive years. It is widely used in modern industrial agriculture, and its implementation has allowed for large harvests from minimal labor.
significant exceptions being sub-Saharan Africa and, lately, western Asia and North Africa (FAO, 2012a). At the same time, a growing number of those countries still experiencing under-nutrition are also showing increases in the prevalence of overweight and obesity (see Figure 2-1). Across the entire spectrum of under-nutrition and overweight, Burlingame observed a resistance to solving micronutrient malnutrition problems. Even in countries where the quantity of food is sufficient and dietary energy supplies are adequate or even more than adequate, micronutrient malnutrition remains a high-risk problem (Thompson and Amoroso, 2011). In her opinion, this reflects a huge problem in diet quality.
UN Recognition of Agriculture–Environmental–Nutrition Linkages
Biodiversity serves an important role in sustaining diet quality. As summarized by Burlingame, the link between biodiversity and nutrition became a formal FAO activity when, in 2004, the Convention on Biological Diversity’s (CBD’s) Conference of the Parties (COP), the governing body of the CBD, formally recognized the linkages between biodiversity, food, and nutrition and the need to enhance sustainable use of biodiversity to combat hunger and malnutrition. The COP requested the CBD’s Executive Secretary, in collaboration with FAO and the former International Plant Genetic Resources Institute, now Bioversity International, to undertake a cross-cutting initiative on biodiversity for food and nutrition (CBD, 2013). Later that same year, the Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture also requested that FAO evaluate the relationship between biodiversity and nutrition. In 2005, eight high-priority actions and another six lower-priority actions were identified (FAO, 2005). In 2006, the COP adopted the Framework for a Cross-Cutting Initiative on Biodiversity for Food and Nutrition (CBD, 2006).
In order to better understand the role of biodiversity in the broader context of ecosystem services, not just in the context of nutrition, FAO conducted a survey of primarily mainstream nutrition scientists worldwide. Survey participants were asked which of several features are not compatible with sustainable diets. Burlingame described these unpublished results. Overwhelmingly respondents identified agricultural chemical inputs as unsustainable. They also identified monoculture agriculture, intensive livestock industries, and transgenic modification to food, plants, and animals as unsustainable. Survey participants were also asked which of several features were necessary for a sustainable diet. The same respondents identified as necessary increasing the use of food biodiversity for addressing the problems of nutrition and better diets, enhancing the resilience of food systems, using agricultural practices that respect the environment, consuming less
meat, making greater use of biodiversity to meet nutrient requirements, and promoting healthy dietary patterns through local food systems. After the survey was completed, FAO, Biodiversity International, and other partners conducted a technical workshop on biodiversity in sustainable diets (FAO, 2010). Then, in 2010, an international scientific symposium on biodiversity and sustainable dies was convened in Rome. The 2010 symposium led to a consensus definition of “sustainable diet” (Burlingame and Dernini, 2012, p. 294):
Sustainable diets are those diets with low environmental impacts which contribute to food and nutrition security and to healthy life for present and future generations. Sustainable diets are protective and respectful of biodiversity and ecosystems, culturally acceptable, accessible, economically fair and affordable; nutritionally adequate, safe and healthy; while optimizing natural and human resources.
In addition, the 2010 symposium led to a draft code of conduct for sustainable diets, the preamble of which was modeled on what Burlingame described as probably the most powerful code of conduct ever developed for the nutrition world, that is, the International Code of Marketing of Breast-Milk Substitutes (WHO, 1981). In the preamble, it is recognized that the health of humans cannot be isolated from the health of ecosystems; food, meaning unprocessed or moderately unprocessed food, is an unequaled way of providing ideal nutrition for all ages and life stages; and conservation and sustainable use of food biodiversity is an important part of the well-being associated with health and the environment (Burlingame and Dernini, 2012).
As described by Burlingame, shortly afterward, the Rio+20 UN conference led to the UN Secretary General’s Zero Hunger Challenge. The challenge was intended to serve as a follow-up to the Millennium Development Goals, with the “100 percent access to adequate food all year round” and “all food systems are sustainable” goals being compatible with the first and the seventh Millennium Development Goals. An additional Zero Hunger Challenge goal is “zero loss or waste of food” (UN, 2012).
The global food supply relies on very few crops to provide nutrients and dietary energy; food biodiversity in many common species of food
3 Burlingame identified three levels of biodiversity: (1) the ecosystem, (2) the food species within an ecosystem, and (3) genetic diversity within a species (e.g., different breeds of an animal species, different varieties of a plant species). Here, she was referring mostly to genetic diversity within a species.
plants is much more vast than what is currently utilized. For example, Burlingame identified at least 4 species and more than 100 varieties of wheat, as well as more than 140 varieties of apricot. Burlingame explained that preventing loss of food plant biodiversity is important not only from an environmental perspective, but also because different varieties and cultivars (i.e., genetic diversity within species) represent significant nutritional variation. The protein content of wheat varies based on variety, with different varieties containing different individual amino acids, B vitamins, individual fatty acids, and vitamin E. Likewise, with apricots, different varieties reflect nutritionally significant variations in beta-carotene, lutein, lycopene, any-thocyanins, and vitamin C.
Grapes are one of the more interesting examples of food biodiversity, in Burlingame’s opinion. There are several different grape species, with Vitis vinifera being the most important grape wine species. In fact, in Europe V. vinifera is the only species of grape allowed to be grown for wine in Europe (EU, 2008). Even within V. vinifera, there are thousands of varieties, each with a unique nutritional fingerprint (e.g., variation in vitamin C, organic acids, anthocyanins, resveratrol, many other phytochemicals) (Iacopinia et al., 2008).
Burlingame identified sweet potatoes as another crop plant with significant nutritional differences among its many varieties. In many parts of the world, including in countries where vitamin A deficiency is commonplace, sweet potato varieties with low beta-carotene content have been promoted by agricultural extension workers for their yield and disease resistance; however, the beta-carotene content of many sweet potato varieties is low (Huang et al., 1999).
Bananas, too, vary nutritionally, with varieties having anywhere from almost 0 to more than 5,300 micrograms of provitamin A carotenoid (which is converted into vitamin A) per 100 grams (Englberger et al., 2003). Interestingly, Burlingame noted, bananas with high provitamin A carotenoid content used to be neglected in countries where they grow wild, with fruits falling to the ground and rotting. Today, they are being valued and promoted; for example, Micronesia promotes different varieties of bananas on its postage stamps. Bananas are 1 of 12 case studies of indigenous people’s food systems worldwide being examined by FAO, in collaboration with the Centre for Indigenous Peoples’ Nutrition and Environment and other partners.
Such tremendous nutritional biodiversity exists not just within fruits and vegetables, but also within staple crops. Consider rice. Although plant breeding programs have focused on yield and disease resistance, thousands and thousands of varieties of rice exist (IRRI, 2006). More than 4,000 varieties of rice used to be grown for food in Korea. Today, only 12 variet-
ies can be identified. In Thailand, some 16,000 varieties of rice used to be grown for food. Today, only 37 varieties can be identified, with 50 percent of rice cultivation areas comprising only 2 varieties. As with other food species, different types of rice provide significantly different nutritional value. Although the protein content of rice is usually cited as being 8 percent, in fact protein content ranges from about 5.5 percent to almost 15 percent (Kennedy and Burlingame, 2003). Burlingame argued that talking about rice as if it is a product with an average nutrient content does not do justice to its biodiversity. She said, “It behooves us as nutritionists to really identify where we have nutritionally significant differences in the foods that people are eating.”
Not only does rice have tremendous biodiversity, but so do rice ecosystems. A number of edible species live within the aquatic rice ecosystem. More than 100 species of edible fish, crustaceans, mollusks, amphibians, insects, reptiles, and aquatic plants inhabit the Cambodian rice ecosystems (Balzer et al., 2002). For the rural populations that rely on rice ecosystems for their food sources, although the rice itself provides dietary energy, it is those other food species that provide micronutrients. Burlingame noted that by intensifying the rice ecosystem, many sources of micronutrients are lost, so much so that the International Rice Commission recommended to its membership (rice producers worldwide) that they promote sustainable development of aquatic biodiversity in rice-based ecosystems, that policy decisions enhance the living aquatic resource base, and that attention be given to the nutritional contribution of aquatic organisms and the diets of rural people who produce or depend on rice (FAO, 2002).
Burlingame identified another example of a local food ecosystem that provides necessary micronutrients to the rural community dependent on that ecosystem: Mongolia, a chronically food-insecure, landlocked country. The main dairy animal in Mongolia is a local breed of horse that feeds on a family of small mint plants, among other grassland species. Together, the genetic traits of the horse and the indigenous plants of the grazing lands provide milk and meat that provide much of the n-3 fatty acids (omega-3) in the population’s nutrition. If even a single element of this ecosystem were changed—for example, by introducing a new feeding regime to increase production of horse milk, or a higher producing breed of dairy animal—the net result would be that the human population would need a supplement in order to meet the daily n-3 fatty acid requirement.
Burlingame briefly mentioned a couple of efforts aimed at increasing food biodiversity. First is the Biodiversity for Food and Nutrition Project’s Mainstreaming Biodiversity Conservation and Sustainable Use for Improved Human Nutrition and Well-being initiative, with the aim of
A number of studies have identified extremely high food waste and loss in many parts of the world (see Figure 2-2). For example, cereal food waste and loss in Europe and North America is very high at the household level of consumption; in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, it is high at the agriculture and postharvest levels (Gustavsson et al., 2011). Burlingame noted that these losses and waste represent a huge amount of resources, not just the food itself, but also the natural and human resources used to produce that food.
Food is also wasted through overconsumption. Obesity is a relatively new phenomenon in the world. Great Britain’s first reported morbidly obese man,6 who lived in the early 19th century, was such a phenomenon that he charged admission for people to see him. Today, the prevalence of morbid obesity in the United States is about 8.0 percent for women and 4.5 percent for men, and growing (CDC, 2013). In Burlingame’s opinion, obesity is an agriculture issue, not just a health sector issue.
In conclusion, Burlingame reiterated the central role of biodiversity in sustainability and called for more researchers worldwide to contribute to the evidence base. Although the dietary energy supply, which is considered a proxy for hunger, can be satisfied without biodiversity, the same is not true of the micronutrient supply. More than 10 years ago, a Zambian delegate to the Conference of Parties, Convention on Biological Diversity said, “Agricultural biodiversity is a matter of life and death for us.… We cannot separate agrobiodiversity from food security.” That still rings true today (Zambian Delegate to the Conference of Parties, May 1998).
5 See http://www.barillacfn.com/en/bcfn4you/la-doppia-piramide (accessed December 6, 2013).
6 A body mass index above 40 is considered morbid obesity, or Class III obesity.
Are there enough fish in the sea? Cynthia Jones discussed U.S. dietary recommendations for fish and shellfish and the likely environmental implications of meeting the recommended daily intakes of fish and shellfish. She also considered climate change and its expected impact on seafood productivity.
Recent Dietary Recommendations for Seafood
Jones first summarized that, by and large, most public health organizations and professionals (e.g., the American Heart Association, the Association of Reproductive Health Professionals, and the Harvard School of Public Health) recommend that both adults and children consume between 6 and 12 ounces of seafood, preferably fatty fish and not top predators, each week (American Heart Association, 2013; Association of Reproductive Health Professionals, 2008; Harvard School of Public Health, no date; IOM, 2007). Two servings of 3 to 6 ounces weekly translate to 0.375-0.75 pounds of fish per week. Some organizations and professionals also claim that the greater the consumption, the better. Those weekly recommendations translate to approximately 20 to 39 pounds of fish per person per year. Jones noted that the average U.S. citizen consumes only about 15 pounds per year, below what is recommended.
Given that there are about 315 million people in the United States, Jones calculated that those per person recommendations translate to somewhere between 6 × 109 (6 billion) and 12 × 109 pounds (12 billion) pounds of fish per year for the entire U.S. population. Those 6 to 12 billion pounds refer to processed fish, for example, fish sticks and fish fillets. The figure does not include bones and other parts of fish that are not actually eaten. According to the seafood manager at a Whole Foods grocery store in Virginia Beach, fillets constitute only about 50 percent of whole unprocessed fish. According to FAO statistics, the range of usable yield is approximately 30 to 65 percent (FAO, 1987). Jones used the 50 percent figure quoted by the Whole Foods seafood manager for her “back-of-the-envelope” calculations. Thus, 6 to 12 billion pounds of processed fish is equal to 12 to 24 billion pounds of landed, whole fish.
7 This section summarizes information presented by Cynthia M. Jones, Ph.D., Old Dominion University, Norfolk, Virginia.
U.S. Fish Production
Sources of fish harvest include both commercial and recreational capture fisheries (i.e., wild-caught fish) and aquaculture. Jones described aquaculture as any process that involves taking fish from the wild and modifying their growth in some way. In the United States, most landed whole fish comes from capture fisheries, with only about 10 percent coming from aquaculture. Combined, U.S. commercial landings and aquaculture production totaled 8 and 10 billion pounds per year in 2010 and 2011, respectively (NOAA, 2012a).
Jones referred workshop participants to two articles highlighting a current debate among fisheries scientists about whether catch data accurately reflect how much wild fish is actually available (Pauly et al., 2013; Worm et al., 2006).
By and large, domestic fisheries are well managed and in good condition (see Table 2-1) (NOAA, 2013a). The leading source of capture fisheries harvest in the United States is pollock. Jones described the harvest of pollock as sustainable, that is, it is neither currently overfished nor has it been overfished in the past. The second leading source of harvest is menhaden, which is not a fish that most people eat. Menhaden are an important source of omega-3s and are used in fishmeal and in other ways to feed other sources of food. Although menhaden were not overfished in the past, they are currently being overfished. Salmon is the third most predominant source of domestic harvest by volume (not value). Whether salmon has been overfished or is being overfished varies, depending on the population. Although the large Alaskan salmon are neither overfished nor have they been overfished, salmon fisheries in California are running into some problems.
In sum, all U.S. landings total 9.9 × 109 (9.9 billion) pounds, or 4.5 million metric tons. The reduction fishery, which includes menhaden, ac-
TABLE 2-1 Top 10 Sources of U.S. Capture Fisheries Harvest
SOURCES: NOAA, 2012b, 2013a.
counts for 1.9 × 109 (1.9 billion) pounds. The edible fish and seafood landings account for 7.9 × 109 (7.9 billion) pounds, or 3.6 million metric tons (NOAA, 2012b). In relationship to what is needed to meet the U.S. dietary guidelines (i.e., 12 to 24 billion pounds of landed whole fish), Jones said, “We’re falling short.”
Recreational fisheries are “fun,” Jones said, with the striped bass and speckled trout being the top two species, but they do not make a nearly sufficient difference. They account for 2.01 × 108 (201 million) pounds per year. Marine and inland U.S. aquaculture contributes 7.5 × 108 (7.5 million) pounds (NOAA, 2012a).
Domestic Production and Consumption
Again, anywhere from 12 to 24 billion pounds of whole landed fish are needed to meet U.S. population needs for recommended dietary intakes of fish and shellfish. But only 8.851 billion pounds are available (7.9 × 109 pounds of edible fish and seafood landings + 2.01 × 108 pounds of recreational fisheries landings + 7.5 × 108 pounds of aquaculture). The take-home message is, in Jones’s words, “We are not producing enough fish in the United States to meet the dietary requirements that the Institute of Medicine and other sources recommend for us.… If we were to rely on fish from the U.S. only, we do not have food security for our own country.… We could eat other things. We could figure out how to eat menhaden, for example, or other species.” To offset some of this gap, currently the United States imports more than 85 percent of its seafood, including shrimp and other fish (NOAA, 2013b).
Global Production and Consumption
Jones again reiterated that two servings of 3 to 6 ounces of fish per week amounts to 19.5 to 39 pounds, or 8.9 to 17.8 kilograms, per person per year. At the current global census of 7 × 109 (7 billion) people, that amounts to between 63 and 126 million metric tons of processed fish (fillets, etc.) per year. Given that processed fish constitutes about 50 percent of whole unprocessed fish, that amounts to between 120 and 240 million metric tons of landed whole fish per year.
What’s available? Most worldwide production is marine capture, with contributions from marine and inland aquaculture growing, and very little harvest from inland capture. Jones warned that global statistics are not very reliable, but total global fish landings are estimated to be about 148 million metric tons per year (FAO, 2012b). That includes reduction fisheries (e.g., sardines and other fish that are used for fishmeal). Available fresh, frozen, and cured fish amounts to about 128 million metric tons per year. Thus,
global production would barely meet global need if product were evenly distributed.
Could more fish be harvested if fisheries were better managed? Pauly et al. (2013) argued that productivity of overexploited stocks (~14 percent of all stock) could be improved through better management. Sumaila et al. (2012) argued that it would take about 12 years for the economic cost of better management to equal the economic benefit and that the gain would be about 10 percent. “That’s simply not enough,” Jones said. Better management will lead to initial loss of production, followed by eventual gain, but the gain will not be enough to meet dietary needs. Some experts predict that aquaculture, which has been growing worldwide, but mostly in Asia, could potentially exceed 60 percent of total fish production and make up some of the difference (Fishbio, 2012).
Climate Change and Productivity
An article by Cheung et al. (2013) reported that climate change will shrink fish size by up to 25 percent, thus shrinking the amount of food available. In addition, the Marine Stewardship Council has made statements that climate change will not only change the number of fish, but it will also change their distribution, physiology, seasonality, and other components of their biology (Marine Stewardship Council, 2013). As just one example, the Atlantic menhaden, an important reduction fishery source, has been showing not just a steady population decline, but also distributional changes in an ongoing unpublished study by Jones. Other fish ranges are changing as well. The Atlantic croaker, which used to never travel much beyond Delaware Bay, is now spawning in New Jersey and even further north. The spotted sea trout, the second most important U.S. recreational species, relies very heavily on its sea grass nursing grounds, which are at a historic low, raising questions about whether the spotted sea trout might disappear (Jones, 2013).
Jones highlighted three key conclusions. First, U.S. dietary suggestions may exceed current U.S. domestic fish production. Second, she is not hopeful that changes in management and aquaculture can bridge the gap. She foresees more sustainable production in the future, but not enough. Although some experts predict that aquaculture potentially could bridge the gap, Jones cautioned that there are hazards to aquaculture. Third, the effects of climate change on fish production are unknown. In sum, she said, “There are not enough fish in the sea.”
Comparing the environmental impacts of beef, pork, and poultry is not an easy task, in Frank Mitloehner’s opinion. Mitloehner is currently serving as chair of the FAO Livestock Environmental Assessment and Performance partnership, a project aimed at establishing an internationally agreed-on scientific methodology for determining the environmental impact of livestock in all regions of the world and among different producers within regions. The project has brought together not only many national governments, but also the entire livestock industry, as well as the World Wildlife Fund and other nongovernmental organizations. The project is based on a belief that developing a globally harmonized methodology is a first step toward assessing potential mitigation options.
FAO’s interest in resource issues related to the animal protein sector stems from concerns about world population development and related nutrition issues. The global population is expected to continue to sharply increase, reaching almost 10 billion people by 2050, with most growth occurring in developing countries (Rekacewicz, 2005). Consumption of animal protein (eggs, meat, milk) in developing countries is growing rapidly as well (FAO, 2009). Meat consumption is generally driven by income, with greater consumption associated with greater disposable income (FAO, 2009). Meat production is growing particularly rapidly in parts of east and southeast Asia, but also in Latin America (FAO, 2009). Milk production is following the same trend, particularly in south Asia. Mitloehner observed that many people think of the United States as a “heavy hitter” in terms of livestock production, but in fact the fastest-growing livestock sectors are in China and India (FAO, 2009).
As animal protein consumption and meat production are growing, so too is general political pressure to eat less meat, particularly in developed countries. Mitloehner remarked on a comparison recently made on public television, in which the moderator compared the livestock sector with transportation—stating that driving a Hummer and being a vegetarian is better than driving a Prius and eating meat. Such statements make the public believe that transportation choices are not that consequential as long as your diet is right. Additional examples Mitloehner identified included a campaign in Sweden that compared the carbon footprints of a tofu burger versus a turkey burger versus a beef burger and a Prius advertisement comparing a Prius and a sheep with a scale showing the Prius is “greener.”
In Mitloehner’s opinion, although scientists would agree that food
8 This section summarizes information presented by Frank Mitloehner, Ph.D., University of California, Davis.
choices are an important environmental emission source, they would also agree that food choices pale in comparison to transportation choices or energy production and use choices. To illustrate his point, Mitloehner cited a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimate that 33 percent of all GHG emissions are associated with production and use of energy and 27 percent are associated with use of transportation (EPA, 2013). Compare those figures to GHG emissions in the United States from the entire livestock sector, all species, based on life-cycle assessment9 at 3.4 percent (EPA, 2012). According to Mitloehner’s calculations, of that 3.4 percent, approximately 1.8 percent comes from the beef sector. Thus, GHG emissions from livestock in developed countries are dwarfed by carbon footprint contributions from other, larger sectors (e.g., transportation, energy, industry). The same is true of other developed countries. Mitloehner questioned the impact of “Meatless Mondays” or “Beefless Mondays.” If 300-plus million people were to go beefless on Mondays, that would cut the 1.4 percent figure by a factor of 7 (number of days in the week), which would amount to a 0.2 percent reduction in the total greenhouse gas footprint. Mitloehner said, “While this is not nothing … it will not even compare to what we see from the transportation sector.”
GHG emissions from livestock in developing countries, on the other hand, can be a dominant contributor due to deforestation (i.e., the clear-cutting of trees removes what was once a sink for GHGs and replaces it with forage land10), as well as developing countries’ relatively smaller transportation and energy sectors. Moreover, GHG emissions of livestock vary greatly worldwide as a result of variation in production efficiency. For example, the average cow in California produces approximately 20,000 pounds of milk per year, while the average cow (of the same breed) just across the border in Mexico produces approximately 4,000 pounds of milk per year (USDA, 2013; Wattiaux et al., 2012). Thus, it takes five Mexican cows to produce the same amount of milk as one Californian cow. Compared to the single Californian cow, those five cows in Mexico produce much more enteric gasses and waste, need significantly more land and water, and consume more feed. In sum, they are less efficient. Cows in India are even less efficient. According to Mitloehner, it takes 20 Indian cows to produce the same amount of milk as 1 Californian cow.
Regionally, North American cows have the smallest carbon footprint per unit of milk produced. Mitloehner credited the veterinary care that North American herds receive, minimizing parasite load, their high “genetic merit,” and optimized nutrition. Generally, GHG emissions from livestock are plateauing across the developed world (FAO, 2006). In developing
9 See pages 4 and 5 of Pitesky et al. (2009) for description of methodology.
10 Deforestation may also occur as a result of growing feed crops.
regions, by contrast, they are increasing sharply as a result of fast herd growth (FAO, 2006). In developing regions, by contrast, they are increasing sharply as a result of fast herd growth (FAO, 2006).
Variation in percentage of carbon footprint contributions from the livestock sector calls into question the use of global averages, such as the 2006 FAO report stating that livestock contributes 18 percent of all GHG emissions (FAO, 2006). The 18 percent figure is a global average, Mitloehner explained, spanning all livestock species. It is misleading to use global averages when discussing livestock emissions, he argued. More problematic, in his opinion, was that the 2006 FAO report concluded that livestock GHG emissions were greater than those from the transportation sector. The comparison was inappropriate because livestock emissions were analyzed using a true life-cycle assessment, whereas transportation emissions were analyzed using only tailpipe emissions. Yet, the report was well publicized by the media and has served as the basis for public policy decisions.
Mitloehner elaborated on the relationship between production efficiency and not just methane emissions, but also overall emissions. Comparing dairies in the United States in 1944 versus 2007, Capper et al. (2009) found that the modern dairies require 21 percent fewer animals, 23 percent less feed, 35 percent less water, and 10 percent less land to produce the same 1 billion kilograms of milk. Emissions have also been reduced since 1944, with today’s dairies producing 43 percent less methane and almost 60 percent less nitrous oxide, another very potent greenhouse gas (Capper et al., 2009). However, that modern dairies are more efficient than older dairies does not mean that the current situation is sustainable. Mitloehner noted that high performance has created some unsustainable situations. For example, because high-performing dairy cows tend to have reduced reproductive performance, the herds require more replacement animals, that is, animals not currently milking but waiting to enter the milking herd. Those additional replacement animals eat and excrete, contributing to environmental costs.
Although some people advocate replacing conventional meat production with organic meat production, Mitloehner cautioned that conventional meat production is associated with increased production efficiency and a smaller GHG emission per unit of product produced (Stackhouse et al., 2012). It takes much larger herds of organic animals to produce 1,000 tons of milk or meat compared to herds of conventional animals.
The fact that production and emission intensities are inversely related (i.e., the less an animal produces, the more it emits per unit of production) does not mean that concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) are the solution to sustainability. CAFOs raise concerns in the areas of
animal welfare and food safety, as well as other issues. Instead of CAFOs, Mitloehner called for what he refers to as “sustainable intensification,” that is, not reducing intensiveness, but becoming more sustainable about intensification. He identified four tools that can be used to make intensification sustainable: (1) improve fertility, (2) improve health, (3) improve genetics, and (4) provide better diet (Gill et al., 2010). Together, these tools can help to decrease the number of animals required per kilogram of product.
He also suggested considering new ways to manage the 30 to 40 percent of food purchased in the United States that goes to waste. The University of California, Davis, operates a biogas energy plant, a digester that receives different kinds of biomass, including food leftovers, and converts it into fuel. A village in Germany is using a similar digester to convert food waste, green clippings, animal waste, and other biomass into enough power to run the entire village off the grid. Through an underground pipeline system, every household is provided warm water and heat.
In conclusion, Mitloehner showed a photograph with an animal farm on one side of a fence and a housing development on the other. He stated that the GHG emissions impact of the housing development is much greater than the GHG emissions impact of the animal farm because of the fertilizers and pesticides that people use on their lawns and gardens, the fossil fuels that people use when they drive their cars or fly in planes to visit their relatives, and so on.
In the panel discussion following Mitloehner’s presentation, workshop participants asked questions and commented on several topics, including other evidence indicating that animal products in the diet impact climate change in more or different ways than described by Mitloehner; GHG emissions of livestock today versus those of bison in the past; problems and limitations with global fisheries data; and FAO strategies for dealing with natural resource issues associated with food.
Other Evidence Indicating That Animal Products in the Diet Impact Climate Change in Different Ways Than Described by Mitloehner
An audience member pointed out a recent study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America stating that reducing U.S. consumption of animal products could have a significant impact on climate change (Pelletier and Tyedmers, 2010). The audience member asked Mitloehner to comment and state whether the evidence he presented was based on a whole life-cycle analysis. Mitloehner responded that he used data from the 2012 and 2013 EPA emission invento-
ries (EPA, 2012, 2013). These are the official U.S. livestock figures, he said, and they are based on total life-cycle assessment.11 The total contribution of agriculture in the emission inventory is about 3.4 percent, that is, animals and crops combined contribute about 3.4 percent of the U.S. carbon footprint (EPA, 2013). Again, transportation accounts for 27 percent and energy production and use 33 percent.
Mitloehner emphasized that livestock emissions represent a significant contribution to the U.S. carbon footprint and that a change in eating habits could affect its portion of the carbon footprint. However, he cautioned that forgoing meat (e.g., beef) 1 day per week will have an impact of only about 0.2 percent. If people make that choice, they should be aware that the expected impact is often exaggerated. Equating driving a Prius and eating a burger per week to driving a Hummer “might sound cute to people,” Mitloehner said, “but I think it’s dangerous.” In his opinion, these types of exaggerated statements suggest that transportation choices do not matter and that food choices do. “I think that’s sending us in the wrong direction,” he said.
Another audience member asked about the numerous externalities that Mitloehner did not address in his talk, particularly those associated with the intensification of meat production. Examples include water contamination from animal waste, especially in drinking water for rural populations; pesticide use for feed production; antibiotic use and resistance and the spread of antibiotic resistance to workers and consumers; and air quality issues associated with animal crowding. Mitloehner agreed that externalities exist. But they also exist for animals roaming freely and in situations where there is no control over their excrement. In intensive production situations, waste streams can be collected and managed (e.g., manure can be collected and used in a digester to produce power and nutrients can be extracted and applied to crops). Mitloehner’s statement prompted a heated response from the questioner, who said, “I think it is important for the audience to understand that the arguments put forth on the non-importance of reducing meat intake in the U.S. is very narrow. I’m very concerned that the audience here is not hearing about the other human health and environmental concerns associated with meat production, especially intensification of meat production.”
GHG Emissions of Livestock Today Versus Those of Bison in the Past
Another audience member asked Mitloehner how the GHG footprint of modern dairy and beef herds across North America compares to the estimated GHG footprint of the indigenous bison herds of the 17th and 18th
11 See pages 4-5 in Pitesky et al. (2009) for description of the methodology used.
centuries. Mitloehner referred to a recent paper comparing today’s beef herd with historic bison herds that reported slightly lower emissions from the historic bison herd due to lower numbers (Hristov, 2012). Although emissions were slightly lower than today’s beef herd emissions, they were still high because bison eat 100 percent roughage, which is what produces the methane gas that animals belch out. Also, bison have long lives. Beef animals do not live very long, particularly if they are finished in feed lots and entered into packing plants between 14 and 18 months.
Problems and Limitations with Global Fisheries Data
An audience member asked Jones whether the global data she shared on fish factored in the overfishing of predator species (e.g., shark, tuna). Jones reiterated Mitloehner’s cautionary note about using global averages. Different countries manage the harvesting of their fisheries differently. Most developing countries use a precautionary maximum sustainable yield approach, that is, they maintain their fisheries at a midway point where they are most productive. Most developed countries, on the other hand, opt to maintain their populations at lower levels of harvest and higher levels of abundance. Not only do different countries manage harvesting differently, making it difficult to use global averages, but some parts of the world, like Africa and China, have very poor fisheries statistics. With respect to predator overfishing, Jones referred workshop participants to work by Ray Hilborn (Hilborn et al., 2005). Although improving the situation for top predators changes the system because predators influence the species mix, it will not likely make a difference in terms of boosting general productivity. Managing lower-level species will probably be more impactful in terms of boosting productivity—because overfishing predator’s prey can leave them without adequate food to sustain their populations.
FAO Strategies for Dealing with Natural Resource Issues Associated with Food
Burlingame was asked what strategies FAO is using to address natural resource issues associated with food. Burlingame identified sustainable production intensification, as described by Mitloehner, as one. Conservation agriculture is another. She emphasized that the choice of strategy is based on an assessment of the agroecological zone in question and an identification of which techniques and strategies can be used in that particular zone to maximize production and minimize environmental damage. Burlingame considered food losses and waste as one of the most important issues to consider when discussing natural resource issues associated with food. According to studies by FAO and the World Wildlife Fund, food wasted in
the developed world reflects a waste of resources in developing countries where many of those wasted foods are produced (Chapagain and Orr, 2008). Conservation agriculture and other similar techniques can help to minimize food losses and waste. More generally, she encouraged being mindful that production and consumption are coupled. She opined that advocating Meatless Mondays without addressing livestock production will not solve the problem.
Another audience member commented on Burlingame’s discussion of biodiversity and emphasized the importance of cultivar-level biodiversity and the “incredible amount of knowledge” that indigenous people have about that biodiversity.
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