Thankyou Eliot Coleman!


Rearing cattle produces more greenhouse gases than driving cars, UN 
report warns
UN News Centre
29 November 2006

Livestock a major threat to environment
Remedies urgently needed
FAO Newsroom
29 November 2006, Rome - Which causes more greenhouse gas emissions, 
rearing cattle or driving cars?

Download report - 5Mb pdf:




Debunking the meat/climate change myth

7 AUG 2009


Editor's note: Eliot Coleman is one of the most revered and 
influential small-scale farmers in the United States, famous for 
growing delicious vegetables through the Maine winter with little use 
of fossil fuel. Eliot sent me the following letter as a response to 
my recent piece on the greenhouse-gas foorprint of industrial meat. 
At question is a 2007 report by the UN's Food and Agriculture 
Organization called "Livestock's Long Shadow," which claimed that 18 
percent of global human-induced greenhouse gas emissions stem from 
meat production.

-Tom Philpott

The problem is CAFOs, not cows.

I am dismayed that so many people have been so easily fooled on the 
meat eating and climate change issue following the UN report.  The 
culprit is not meat eating but rather the excesses of 
corporate/industrial agriculture.  The UN report shows either great 
ignorance or possibly the influence of the fossil fuel lobby with the 
intent of confusing the public.  It is obviously to someone's benefit 
to make meat eating and livestock raising an easily attacked straw 
man (with the enthusiastic help of vegetarian groups) in order to 
cover up the singular contribution of the only new sources of 
carbon-burning the stored carbon in fossil fuels and to a small 
extent making cement (both of which release carbon from long term 
storage)-as the reason for increased greenhouse gasses in the modern 
era.  (Just for ridiculous comparison, human beings, each exhaling 
about 1kg of CO2 per day, are responsible for 33% more CO2 per year 
than fossil fuel transportation.  Maybe we should get rid of us.)

If I butcher a steer for my food, and that steer has been raised on 
grass on my farm, I am not responsible for any increased CO2.  The 
pasture-raised animal eating grass in my field is not producing CO2, 
merely recycling it (short term carbon cycle) as grazing animals (and 
human beings) have since they evolved.  It is not meat eating that is 
responsible for increased greenhouse gasses; it is the corn/ soybean/ 
chemical fertilizer/ feedlot/ transportation system under which 
industrial animals are raised. When I think about the challenge of 
feeding northern New England, where I live, from our own resources, I 
cannot imagine being able to do that successfully without ruminant 
livestock able to convert the pasture grasses into food.  It would 
not be either easy or wise to grow arable crops on the stony and/or 
hilly land that has served us for so long as productive pasture.  By 
comparison with my grass fed steer, the soybeans cultivated for a 
vegetarian's dinner, if done with motorized equipment, are 
responsible for increased CO2.

But, what about the methane in all that cattle flatulence?  Excess 
flatulence is also a function of an unnatural diet. If cattle 
flatulence on a natural grazing diet were a problem, heat would have 
been trapped 1000 years ago when, for example, there were 70 million 
buffalo in North America not to mention innumerable deer, antelope, 
moose, elk, caribou, and so on all eating vegetation and in turn 
being eaten by native Americans, wolves, mountain lions, etc.  Did 
the methane from their digestion and the nitrous oxide from their 
manure cause temperatures to rise then?  Or could there be other 
contributing factors today resulting from industrial agriculture, 
factors that change natural processes, which are not being taken into 
account?  It has long been known that when grasslands are chemically 
fertilized their productivity is increased but their plant diversity 
is diminished.  A recent study in the journal Rangelands (Vol. 31, 
#1, pp. 45 - 49) documents how the diminished diversity from sowing 
only two or three grasses and legumes in modern pastures results in 
diminished availability of numerous secondary nutritional compounds, 
for example tannins from the minor pasture forbs, which are known to 
greatly reduce methane emissions. Could not the artificial 
fertilization of pastures greatly increase the NO2 from manure?  
Might not the increased phosphorus, nowhere near as abundant in 
natural systems, have modified digestibility?  I am sure that future 
research will document other contributing factors of industrial 
agricultural practices on animal emissions.  The fact is clear.  It 
is not the livestock; it is the way they are raised.  But what about 
clearing the Brazilian rain forest?  Well, the bulk of that is for 
soybeans and if we stopped feeding grain to cattle much of the 
acreage presently growing grain in the Midwest could become pasture 
again and we wouldn't need Brazilian land.  (US livestock presently 
consume 5 times as much grain as the US population does directly.)  
And long term pasture, like the Great Plains once was, stores an 
enormous amount of carbon in the soil.

My interest in this subject comes not just because I am a farmer and 
a meat eater, but also because something seems not to make sense here 
as if the data from the research has failed to take some other human 
mediated influence into account.  But even more significantly, if we 
humans were not burning fossil fuels and thus not releasing long-term 
carbon from storage and if we were not using some 90 megatons of 
nitrogen fertilizer per year, would we even be discussing this issue?

If those people concerned about rising levels of greenhouse gasses, 
instead of condemning meat eating, were condemning the enormous 
output of greenhouse gasses due to fossil fuel and fertilizer use by 
a greedy and biologically irresponsible agriculture, I would cheer 
that as a truthful statement even if they weren't perceptive enough 
to continue on and mention that the only "new" carbon, the carbon 
that is responsible for rising CO2 levels in the atmosphere, is not 
biogenic from livestock but rather anthropogenic from our releasing 
the carbon in long term storage (coal, oil, natural gas.)  Targeting 
livestock as a smoke screen in the climate change controversy is a 
very mistaken path to take since it results in hiding our inability 
to deal with the real causes.  When people are fooled into ignorantly 
condemning the straw man of meat eating, who I suspect has been set 
up for them by the fossil fuel industry, I am appalled by how easily 
human beings allow themselves to be deluded by their corporate 

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