Frank Mitloehner, a professor and air quality specialist at the University of California, Davis, has been selected to chair a United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization committee to measure and assess the environmental impacts of the livestock industry.

The international effort is a necessary first step toward improving the sustainability of the livestock sector, particularly as the global consumption of meat, dairy products and eggs continues to rise.

As chair of the new committee, Mitloehner will lead representatives of national governments, livestock industries, nonprofit and private sectors in establishing science-based methods to quantify livestock’s carbon footprint, create a database of greenhouse gas emission factors for animal feed, and develop a methodology to measure other environmental pressures, such as water consumption and nutrient loss.

The effort will last three years. Mitloehner will serve as chair for the first year.

Among the founding members of the committee are: the governments of France, Ireland, the Netherlands and New Zealand, the European Feed Manufacturers’ Federation, the European Vegetable Oils and Proteinmeal Industry, the International Dairy Federation, the International Meat Secretariat, the International Egg Commission, the International Poultry Council, the International Federation for Animal Health, and the World Wildlife Fund.

“By the end of three years, we’ll have a methodology that’s globally accepted, that anyone in the world can use to quantify the environmental impact of their livestock,” Mitloehner said.

The Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that meat consumption is projected to increase nearly 73 percent by 2050 and dairy consumption will grow 58 percent over current levels. These numbers highlight a need to create sustainable forms of food production.

Methods of raising livestock differ throughout the world. For example, according to Mitloehner, it takes roughly 20 Indian cows to produce as much milk as one dairy cow in the United States. 

Currently, many different methods are being used to measure and assess the environmental impacts of raising animals, making it difficult to compare results and set priorities for improvements.

Mitloehner’s research has found that, in the U.S., raising livestock accounts for 3.4 percent of greenhouse gas emissions nationwide, while the nation’s transportation sector contributes roughly 26 percent.

“Transportation choices continue to be the main contribution to climate change and not, as is often depicted, food choices,” Mitloehner said. “This new program is an effort to harmonize methodologies to benchmark the environmental impact of livestock.”