When Cargill Meat Solutions announced the closure of its Plainview, Texas, harvest facility last month, the company cited the effects of the ongoing two-year drought as one of the reasons. The lack of rain in the region would seem to fit nicely with the reality that cattle numbers were low even before the drought. But taking the scenario a leap further and suggesting that the plant was forced to close due to global warming is a stretch of epic proportions.
But that’s exactly what R.P. Siegel suggests in an article published on the website Triplepundit.com. “It sounds a bit like justice served, doesn’t it?” Siegel asks. While he acknowledges scientific models don’t yet have the precision to directly tie a particular event to global warming trends, Siegel, nevertheless, uses the Cargill plant closure to dredge up a seven-year-old discredited report about livestock’s contribution to climate change.
“More clear is the linkage between the beef industry and the changes to our planetary thermostat,” Siegel wrote. “The UN Food and Agriculture Organization reported that somewhere between 14 and 22 percent of all greenhouse gases were generated directly by the meat industry.”
Siegel is referring to “Livestock’s Long Shadow,” the 2006 report issued by the FAO that actually was very specific in saying livestock production is responsible for 18 percent of emissions, not “somewhere between 14 and 22 percent.” Regardless, all of those numbers exaggerate the global greenhouse-gas emissions of livestock, according to subsequent research.
Frank Mitloehner, PhD, an animal scientist and air-quality specialist at the University of California- Davis Air Quality Center, says that the claims that livestock are to blame for the bulk of global warming are both “scientifically inaccurate” and a dangerous distraction from more important issues. However, Mitloehner has repeatedly acknowledged global warming is occurring and that human activity contributes to it. But he wants people to understand that the contribution of animal agriculture to climate change is much smaller than what many believe.
In a report published last year (and reported by Drovers/CattleNetwork) titled “Clearing the air: Livestock’s contribution to climate change,” Mitloehner and his colleagues point to significant errors in the FAO report. He agrees that livestock are a major contributor of methane but says the U.N. report that criticized livestock production as a major contributor to global warming used a faulty methodology, and that the calculations in the FAO report were off.