The “carbon neutrality” of Italian livestock

We report a short note by Roberto De Vivo, in collaboration with Professor Luigi Zicarelli of the Department of Veterinary Medicine and Animal Production, University of Naples “Federico II”, who published an interesting study on the carbon neutrality of Italian livestock. The conclusion of the work denies the continuing and increasing media attacks on livestock farming in terms of greenhouse gas emissions.

Among the greenhouse gas emissions due to livestock activities, there is ruminal methane resulting from the fermentation and management of manure from farmed animals. Carbon-fixing plants are used to feed farmed animals, and thus, they remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. The emissions related to ruminal fermentation, those related to manure, the management and dissemination of animals reared in Italy, and the manure released from grazing animals were quantified and added together.

The emissions due to the respiration of animals were calculated, and the carbon dioxide fixed by the main crops for animal feed was calculated and then subtracted from the atmosphere. In addition, emissions from soil processing for the cultivation of plant, the production of fertilizers and pesticides, electricity, fuels, and machinery operation were taken into account.

This study shows that in Italy, the CO2 fixed in the vegetation cultivated for animal feed is about 10% higher than the sum of the CO2 emitted by the animals reared and by the entire process that is part of it. Therefore, it could be argued that the influence of carbon fixation should probably be taken into account in calculating the environmental impact in terms of the carbon footprint of agricultural and animal products. This would demonstrate the carbon neutrality that characterizes the production processes of farming and animal products compared to other production cycles.

In short, in contrast to many studies and mass media only considering climate-altering gases produced by animal husbandry on climate change, in this study, the amount of CO2 produced by the animals and the equivalent amount resulting from methane from ruminal activity over ten years and also that one fixed in plants used for the feeding of farmed animals is assessed.

In short, in Italy, the CO2 fixed by the plants produced both in Italy and abroad for animals feeding is higher than the equivalent emitted by the farmed animals and the zootechnical activities related to them. It means that farmed animals contribute to reducing CO2 in the atmosphere.

This note is a summary of the scientific article published in Translational Animal Science in March 2021.

Roberto De Vivo and Luigi Zicarelli


The "Sustainable Meats" Project aims to identify the key topics, the state of knowledge and the most recent technical scientific trends, with the aim of showing that meat production and consumption can be sustainable, both for health and for the environment.