Finding the exact figures for livestock’s long shadow: livestock emissions vary widely

  1. Goodland and Anhang (2009), noting the FAO study Livestock’s Long Shadow (LLS) had found that livestock contributed 18% to total emissions, re-calculated it and found it was actually 51% of the total global greenhouse gases.

They said the Livestock’s Long Shadow had:

  • Undercounted methane
  • overlooked CO2 from animal respiration
  • Overlooked land use
  • Put some emissions in the wrong section
  • Used outdated data

2. After that the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) redid their figures and came up with a new figure in 2013. They said livestock’s emissions were 14.5% to total emissions. But by then, according to GRAIN, a global group of small farmers who do research into livestock and based in Spain, the FAO had been influenced by the meat industry. They had been outraged by the 18% figure and demanded they be involved from now on.

They say in their 2017 report Grabbing the Bull by the Horns, “‘You wouldn’t believe how much we were attacked”, said Samuel Jutzi Director of the Animal Product and Health Division of the FAO. The FAO soon buckled under the pressure ad agreed to establish a partnership with the meat industry’s man lobby groups to jointly reassess emissions from livestock.

Representatives of meat companies dominate both the partnership’s Steering Committee and its Technical Advisory Committee. Meat and dairy companies also funded their lobby groups and scientists. (and they gave references)

3. The IPCC 2014 put the emissions from Agriculture, Forestry, and Other Land Use at 24% of the total as reported by the EPA. 

So this is not just from livestock: and it is just livestock we want.  If we exclude the amount produced by land use change and forestry we get 11.5%. Now are down lower than the lowest FAO figure of 14.5%. But a fair bit of that land use change is from jungle to farms to produce beef or feed for it. So back to a bigger figure. Complicated now…

In that figure of total emissions by sector, transport provides 14% of total emissions and industry 21%. But animal products get transported and manufactured in various ways but their transport emissions are not attributed to animal agriculture.  Anhang and Goodland included it all in the livestock section.

The issue of animal respiration of 60 billion livestock killed each year for food has never been included in any FAO or IPCC calculations, but Goodland, giving an interview in 2013 said this was important to include as the balance of CO2 and oxygen is way out of kilter since human beings started to grow livestock for food so intensely in the last fifty years.

So let’s look at what happened in the next decade after the 2009 paper of Goodland and Anhang.

Jonathan Foley on a TED talk in 2011 quoted 30% of total anthropogenic global emissions. Who is he? An environmental scientist of considerable standing, with 130 peer reviewed scientific articles published. His site says he is among the world’s top 1 percent most-cited scientists. Yes, he doesn’t offer solutions or even tease out livestock, but the global agricultural picture is intriguing.