The Truth About Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Animal Agriculture

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Everyone seems to be worried about the environment and the threat of climate change these days.  And no wonder! Weather reports list some of the most recent years as the hottest ever and insurance claims from natural disasters are skyrocketing .  The world is concerned with reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emission levels to prevent further increasing global temperatures.  But the world is also united behind this global issue, coming together to sign the Paris Accord (2016) and committing to limiting global temperature rise to less than 2 o C above pre-industrial levels. This has turned the world’s attention to GHGs (greenhouse gasses) and their sources.

The main culprits of GHGs come as no surprise: oil and gas industries, and vehicle emissions.  But the GHG emissions produced by animal agriculture and their impact on the environment have also been in the news. Some special interest groups have created comparison by implying that animal agriculture is responsible for 50% of GHG production, which is untrue. Most recently, the Eat Lancet report presented a scenario for consuming a highly plant-based diet to “save the planet”.  This report made news headlines, but sadly the many informative articles indicating the flaws/biases in the report did not.

Animal Agriculture and Practical Solutions

In reality, plant and animal agriculture sources combined make up only around 10% of emissions in both the US and Canada (Figure 1 and 2).  Of that, animal agriculture makes up about 66% (or 7% of total GHG emissions).  In contrast, the oil and gas sectors and transportation produce about 50% of the emissions in Canada, followed by buildings, electricity generation and industry.  Emphasizing the reduction of major sources of pollution would greatly impact GHG emissions.  We saw this impact in Ontario starting in 2001 with the closure of the coal plants (Draft Ontario Environmental Plan 2019).  The subsequent closure of 19 units in 5 plants resulted in a significant drop from a peak of 53 smog days in 2005 to ZERO smog days in 2017 in Ontario.   Ontario has already met the Paris Accord objectives, reducing its GHG emissions by 22% since 2005!

What if we were to abandon animal agriculture?  Would it save the planet?  A report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences examined the effect of eliminating animal agriculture on GHG emissions in the US.  The study states that GHG emissions would only be reduced by 2.6% after adjustments to resulting agriculture demands were accounted for.  The report also stated that without animal products it would be difficult to meet the nutritional requirements of the population and therefore nutritional deficiencies would be more widespread. Clearly this is not a practical solution.

But we all have a role to play in reducing our impact on the environment.  Animal agriculture is a small but not insignificant source of GHGs; as an industry, we are committed to doing our part to increase our sustainability.  The Egg Farmers of Canada recently reported that from 1962 to 2012, the egg industry produces 50% more eggs but uses 50% fewer resources.  As for the industry’s carbon footprint? In a recent Spanish study, the scientists obtained a carbon footprint per dozen eggs of 2.7kg of carbon dioxide equivalent, which was described as “a value similar to other basic foods of animal origin such as milk and much lower than that of veal, pork or lamb”.

Investing In Research and Sustainable Production

The animal agriculture industry supports Accredited scientists (e.g. @GHGguru) working in internationally recognized universities as they study the emissions produced by animal agriculture and more sustainable production systems providing credible sources of information.

In 2018, Burnbrae Farms successfully opened an egg farm run almost entirely from solar energy.  On sunny, cloudless days, excess energy produced by this farm actually runs across to a second farm to reduce its dependence on grid-sourced electricity!   We have a huge sustainability program aimed at reducing our environmental footprint and maximizing our commitment to community wellbeing.  Visit www.burnbraefarms.com to learn more about our efforts.

Helen Anne Hudson, Ph.D., Co-Director of Corporate Social Responsibility

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