livestock farms environment

Livestock farms help the environment

Livestock farms are considered significant producers of greenhouse gases, among the leading causes of climate change. False accusations, as recent scientific research shows.

As revealed by the accounts, the number of emissions generated by livestock farms is less than the oxygen produced and carbon sequestrated in the rearing cycle and fodder production. Thus, the final balance: farms’ carbon footprint is entirely in favour of the environment. This is certified by the research conducted by Roberto De Vivo and Luigi Zicarelli and published in Translational Animal Science.

To understand these results, it is necessary to remember to measure the environmental impact of human activities. Two parameters are used: one negative with the CO2 emissions, the other positive with carbon sequestration, which is equivalent to subtracting CO2 from the atmosphere. To make these calculations, we give a sort of score to each gas, depending on its environmental impact. So, a methane molecule is worth 28 times that of one of CO2 and nitrous oxide 298 times more.

Nitrous oxide and methane are not mentioned at random. The first originates from litter and sewage, and the second derives from ruminants’ digestive fermentation. Using these equivalence parameters, it has been calculated that in 2018 in Italy, the livestock sector emitted almost twenty thousand tons of CO2, 65% of all agriculture (but just 5.2% of the national total). FAO also wanted to do similar accounts, saying that livestock farming contributes 14.5% to the formation of greenhouse gases. But the differences among gas are essential.

It is necessary to distinguish the source from which this gas comes. In the case of animals, the carbon emitted is previously fixed by fodder by photosynthesis and is intended to be reabsorbed by soil and plants themselves through the food cycle.

The #emissions generated by #livestock farms is less than the oxygen produced and #carbon sequestrated in the rearing cycle and #fodder production. Click To Tweet

Photosynthesis, we must remember, is a process that costs nothing in terms of energy and also injects new oxygen. Instead, the carbon from fuels is of fossil origin, and the CO2 produced is of new formation. In other words, while CO2 produced by energy-intensive processes is added to the atmosphere, that generated by livestock is the result of recycling the one already present.

On this basis, De Vivo and Zicarelli’s research accurately calculated the balance between carbon sequestration in livestock feed and CO2 emissions for meat, milk and egg production. The result confirms that livestock farming does not affect the emissions of greenhouse gases but, on the contrary, contributes to reducing their presence. In practice, the amount of carbon captured is 10% higher than that emitted.

Complex calculations are needed to arrive at this conclusion, considering the quantities of fodder used, the amounts of carbon seized from the crops of the fodder itself, and that left on the ground in the roots. Then animals’ emissions are added to the agricultural processes (production of fertilizers, operation of the farming means, and others).

These findings call into question many beliefs about the relationship between animal husbandry and the environment. Farms do not generate new CO2, which is also reabsorbed, with an even positive balance for the environment.

All the parameters used so far are then to be reviewed, and also the FAO indications, when it gives agriculture 14.5% of greenhouse gas emissions, should be interpreted in the light of these findings. So too the Ispra evaluations, which attribute to Italian animal husbandry a modest 5.2% of greenhouse gas emissions.

In 2018 in #Italy, the #livestock sector emitted almost twenty thousand tons of #CO2, 65% of all #agriculture, but just 5.2% of the national total #emissions. Click To Tweet

Suppose livestock farms are exonerated of their responsibility to contribute to climate change. In that case, this does not mean that efforts to optimize their efficiency must cease, further improving the balance between CO2 emitted and that seized. A commitment that goes on and on for a long time has already allowed the livestock sector to reduce emissions by 12% in the last 30 years.

The reduction in methane emissions has been formidable, down by 40% in the last 50 years. A process of decline that will undergo a strong acceleration thanks to the most recent discoveries in terms of precision animal farming and cattle feeding. In the meantime, it is good to know that the accusations against animal husbandry, when it comes to the environment, result from a lack of knowledge of the matter when they do not conceal other interests.



Professional journalist, graduated in veterinary medicine, director of journals dedicated to animal husbandry and editor in chief of journals in the agricultural sector, he has held coordination positions in publishing companies. Author of books on animal breeding, he is involved in the divulgation of technical, political and economic subjects of interest to the livestock sector.