Animal rights activists in this country continue to use many different approaches trying to prevent us from having an important source of food - milk and dairy products, meat, eggs and poultry. In late July, a major newspaper published an article with wild claims made by these activists that cows are a major contributor to climate change and pollution through methane gas resulting from their feed digestion. They claim that not eating meat or dairy products helps the environment.
We need to take a closer look at what they are saying.
Dr. Judith Capper and other researchers at Cornell University point out that a recent study published by the Environmental Protection Agency show that only 6 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions come from agriculture. Only 11 percent of those come from dairy cattle or a total contribution of less than one percent. While figures for beef cattle were not available, they would be similar to dairy.
Studies done by Cornell University show that eliminating meat or dairy products from our diet may not reduce pollution or what is commonly called the carbon footprint. Without dairy products or meat, we would need to eat more vegetable-based protein to fulfill our dietary requirements. They also indicate that there is simply not enough land to support an entirely vegetarian global population.
On top of that, they point out that dairy and beef products are excellent sources of nutrients, including some that prevent cancer and other diseases, nutrients not found in vegetarian foods.
Much effort has gone into reducing the environmental impact of dairy production. Since 1944 the efficiency of U.S. dairy cattle has increased four times. This has been done through genetics, nutrition and management. We produce a lot more milk from fewer cows. This allows dairy farmers to "make more with less."
Technology is also being used to help with fewer emissions from livestock. New feeding practices are being studied and used. Methane digesters are used on some farms. They are very expensive and take a lot of maintenance, so larger dairy herds are needed to make them practical. Doing a better job of feeding is probably a more practical answer.
Cornell researchers have been doing an excellent job of studying the environmental impact of livestock farming and finding ways to reduce that impact. They do point out that the problem is not nearly as serious as animal rights activists would lead us to believe.
Dairy farming in Trumbull County continues to be an important part of our agricultural economy as well as the economy of the entire county. Latest Ohio Department of Agriculture statistics show the gross cash receipts from dairy at more than $9 million for 2005. My own estimate for last year, 2007, with much higher milk prices, would be about $12 million gross.
Dairy farming's contribution to the economy of the county would be from $36 to $60 million dollars last year, using my estimate. Beef cattle and calves add another $15 to $25 million to our economy. And that is just one part of our local agriculture.
Not only is livestock farming important to the economy, it provides us with an important and healthful food supply.
Let's encourage these animal rights activists to spend their time, energy and money on helping those less fortunate folks in our society.
Parker grew up in Trumbull County and works with the local Farm Bureau Board.