The United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), recently released a report detailing dairy greenhouse gas emissions. 

dairy-cows4-featured.jpgAccording to Greenhouse Gas Emissions from the Dairy Sector, dairies account for 4 percent of all global anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions.  The 4 percent figure includes emissions associated with the production, processing, and transportation of all milk products and emissions related to meat produced from animals originating from the dairy system.  

“This report is fundamental to understand and identify opportunities for reducing the environmental impact of the dairy sector while providing safe and nutritious foodstuffs,” said Samuel Jutzi, Director of FAO’s Animal Production and Health Division.

Excluding meat production, milk production, processing, and transportation contributes 2.7 percent of global anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions.  

The global average greenhouse gas emissions per kilogram of milk and related milk products is estimated at a 2.4 kg carbon dioxide equivalent.

The carbon dioxide equivalent emission is a standard measurement for comparing emissions of different greenhouse gases.

The numbers show that in 2007, the dairy sector emitted 1,969 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent, of which 1,328 million tons are attributed to milk, 151 million tons to meat from culled dairy animals, and 490 million tons from calves raised for meat from the dairy sector.

According to the study, methane contributes most of the global warming impact of milk, accounting for about 52 percent of the greenhouse gas emissions in both developing and developed countries.  Nitrous oxide emissions account for 27 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in developed countries and 38 percent in developing countries.  Carbon dioxide accounts for a higher share of emissions in developed countries–21 percent–versus in developing countries–10 percent.

All major milk production systems, ranging from nomadic herds to intensified dairy operations, are covered in the report.  It focuses on the entire dairy food chain, which includes production and transport inputs (fertilizer, pesticide and feed) used for dairy farming, on-farm emissions, and emissions associated with milk processing and packaging as well as the transportation of milk products to retailers.

The dairy assessment is part of an ongoing initiative to analyze and recommend options in order to offset global climate change.  Future reports will include an analysis of greenhouse gas emissions associates with other major livestock species, including buffalo, poultry, small ruminants, and pigs. 

A final report, to be published in 2011, will include all of the livestock greenhouse gas emission numbers as well as effectiveness, welfare, and trade implications of policy options, which will then be carried out through economic modeling.