For most of human history, our relationship with cattle has been about the foods they produce: milk, meat and cheese. Today, a new bovine “product” has captured our interest and may indeed affect the future production of the others. This new product is gas.
Cow burps are the most recent in the list of accused contributors to global warming from the livestock sector. However, a simple measurement of methane production does not tell the whole story. A new report by the Soil Association reevaluates greenhouse gas production in agriculture, taking into account the grazing system – not just the “end product.”
This controversy erupted in recent years as figures emerged about agriculture’s contribution to greenhouse gas emissions. As we discussed in our November 16, 2009 blog, “Beware of Bad Science,” grassfed cattle actually produce fewer emissions than those finished in feedlots, simply because of the carbon sequestration in their pasture-based systems. The new Soil Association report confirms this and adds new data to support the position.
Highlights from the report include:
- The current greenhouse gas (GHG) accounting systems ignore soil carbon impact. According to Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) scientific advisers, 89% of agriculture’s GHG mitigation potential resides in improving soil carbon levels.
- On average, organic farming practices produce 28% higher soil carbon levels than non-organic farming in Northern Europe, and 20% for all countries studied (in Europe, North America and Australasia).
- If UK farmers converted cultivated land to organic farming, the carbon “savings” would be the equivalent of taking nearly a million family cars off the road.
Download the entire report, Soil Carbon and organic farming. A review of the evidence of agriculture’s potential to combat climate change.