“Sustainability isn’t something that’s going to go away,” announced Prof. Judith L. Capper at the Dairy Solutions Symposium in Dublin, Ireland. Capper, an adjunct professor in the Department of Animal Sciences, Washington State University, USA, has spent the last five years researching the environmental impact of dairy and beef systems. Agriculture must minimize environmental impact as we strive to grow more food with less land for the estimated 9.3 billion people in 2050.
Capper discussed the controversial United Nations report, ‘Livestock’s Long Shadow’, that contended that animal agriculture produces 18% of worldwide greenhouse emissions, more than the world’s transport system. This figure was widely publicized by anti animal agriculture groups and used to spread the message that meat and milk are bad for the environment.
Capper described how numbers like this can be used in a misleading way to sway consumers and policy makers. Deeper investigation into the report shows that emissions from dairy production vary widely from developed to developing countries. Dairy systems in the developing world are far less efficient than those in the developed world and therefore produce far more greenhouse gas per milk yield. This demonstrates the improvements that have been made by leading dairy producers and the potential benefit of sharing those advancements with producers in the developing world. In spite of the controversy surrounding the report, Capper stated that it had a positive effect as it forced us to make changes in the industry to reduce carbon emissions. “The dairy industry must be dedicated to improving sustainability to remain viable and environmental impact must be assessed using sound science rather than ideological principles,” said Capper.
We asked Dr. Capper to describe how agriculture can counteract persuasive negative messages that are based on inaccurate or misleading numbers.