UN Report on greenhouse gases: Cows worse than cars


Richard Moore

Original source URL:

Cow Emissions Harm Planet
Far More Than C02 From Cars
By Geoffrey Lean
Environment Editor

Meet the world's top destroyer of the environment. It is not the car, or the 
plane,or even George Bush: it is the cow.

A United Nations report has identified the world's rapidly growing herds of 
cattle as the greatest threat to the climate, forests and wildlife. And they are
blamed for a host of other environmental crimes, from acid rain to the 
introduction of alien species, from producing deserts to creating dead zones in 
the oceans, from poisoning rivers and drinking water to destroying coral reefs.

The 400-page report by the Food and Agricultural Organisation, entitled 
Livestock's Long Shadow, also surveys the damage done by sheep, chickens, pigs 
and goats. But in almost every case, the world's 1.5 billion cattle are most to 
blame. Livestock are responsible for 18 per cent of the greenhouse gases that 
cause global warming, more than cars, planes and all other forms of transport 
put together.

Burning fuel to produce fertiliser to grow feed, to produce meat and to 
transport it - and clearing vegetation for grazing - produces 9 per cent of all 
emissions of carbon dioxide, the most common greenhouse gas. And their wind and 
manure emit more than one third of emissions of another, methane, which warms 
the world 20 times faster than carbon dioxide.

Livestock also produces more than 100 other polluting gases, including more than
two-thirds of the world's emissions of ammonia, one of the main causes of acid 

Ranching, the report adds, is "the major driver of deforestation" worldwide, and
overgrazing is turning a fifth of all pastures and ranges into desert.Cows also 
soak up vast amounts of water: it takes a staggering 990 litres of water to 
produce one litre of milk.

Wastes from feedlots and fertilisers used to grow their feed overnourish water, 
causing weeds to choke all other life. And the pesticides, antibiotics and 
hormones used to treat them get into drinking water and endanger human health.

The pollution washes down to the sea, killing coral reefs and creating "dead 
zones" devoid of life. One is up to 21,000sqkm, in the Gulf of Mexico, where 
much of the waste from US beef production is carried down the Mississippi.

The report concludes that, unless drastic changes are made, the massive damage 
done by livestock will more than double by 2050, as demand for meat increases.

Patricia A. Doyle DVM, PhD
Bus Admin, Tropical Agricultural Economics
Univ of West Indies

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