FACT-CHECK: How Does Consumption Of Meat, Dairy Products Affect Climate Change?

In Breaking News, Fact-Check

Verdict: True. 

According to the United Nations, climate change refers to long-term shifts in temperatures and weather patterns.

Recently, discussions around climate change and its effect on the planet have continued to increase.

Humans worldwide have experienced climate variability – from extreme weather events to floods, water scarcity, and storms.

However, there has been a significant increase in the last hundred years due to the burning of fossil fuels.

Fossil fuels include coal, oil, and natural gas, formed from the fossilized, buried remains of plants and animals that lived millions of years ago. These are said to contain high carbon content, and burning them causes what is known as the “greenhouse effect” in Earth’s atmosphere.

A salient matter of discourse is the number of greenhouse gases emitted into the atmosphere – caused by both natural and human activities.

It has been argued that most of these changes are caused by human activities, mainly burning fossil fuels which lead to global warming.

During the 2nd World Ocean Summit, Asia-Pacific, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) called for urgent action to maintain planetary health, which was described as essential for human and societal health and a pre-condition for climate-resilient development.

Also, during COP27, the United Nations Secretary-General called for a continuous fight for “climate justice and ambition.”

Amid these conversations, a Twitter user, @MikeHudema, who identifies as a climate campaigner, tweeted the relationship between industrial meat and climate change.

In the tweet, Hudema urged people to reduce their consumption of meat and dairy products. He said this would help combat the climate change challenge and soil, air, and water pollution.

“Industrial meat is leaving a trail of destruction all over the world. One of the most useful things everyone can do to combat climate change, soil, air and water pollution, is to eat less meat and dairy,” his tweet reads.

But how true is this claim?

Verification

DUBAWA consulted experts and studies on climate change to ascertain the veracity of the tweet.

2014 report from the think tank Chatham House established a link between human consumption of meat and dairy products and climate change.

The report noted that greenhouse gas emissions from the livestock sector account for about 14.5% of the global total, more than direct emissions from the transport sector.

However, a major concern in the study is the lack of concerted efforts to reduce the consumption of meat and dairy products.

Seven years later, the IPCC, in its April 2022 climate change mitigation report, identified certain actions people can take to reduce the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions that lead to global warming from academic papers.

While the scholars called for a dietary shift, they noted that emerging food technologies such as plant-based alternatives to animal-based food products and controlled environment agriculture could substantially reduce direct greenhouse gas emissions from food production.

It was suggested that humans reduce the intake of meat, adding that diets high in plant protein and low in meat and dairy are associated with lower GHG emissions.

They noted that agriculture is “a key driver of land-use change, causing deforestation and wetland drainage.”

Meanwhile, the United Nations noted that cattle used for both consumption and inedible outputs are responsible for about 65% of the livestock sector’s emissions, followed by pig meat, buffalo milk and meat, chicken meat and eggs and small ruminant milk and meat.

It further stated that 44 per cent of livestock emissions are from methane, 29 per cent from Nitrous Oxide and 27 per cent from Carbon Dioxide.

Writing on the effect of methane on climate change, the Environmental Defense Fund stated that methane has more than 80 times the warming power of carbon dioxide over the first 20 years after it reaches the atmosphere.

DUBAWA spoke to Jennifer Uchendu Kalu, a climate change campaigner and Susty Vibes’ founder.

Uchendu explained that there is indeed a link between the consumption of meat and dairy products and climate change.

According to her, greenhouse gas emissions affect climate change, and gases such as carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O) are all emitted into the atmosphere through livestock agriculture.

“In fact, according to the FAO, 14.5% of all anthropogenic GHG emissions can be linked to livestock agriculture. This is the basis of this argument, and thus it is correct to say that livestock agriculture – in the way it is currently practised – can lead to global warming and, thus, climate change,” she said.

“One school of thought believes that as humans, by continuously demanding meat and dairy products, we increase the need for the production and ultimately increase livestock agriculture-led emissions. These emissions come from feed production for the animals, their digestion processes (burping and excreting), and the transportation and processing of their by-products. Let us also not forget that emissions are also released when manures are stored,” Uchendu explained.

She, however, noted that beyond milk and meat production, there is also wool production, cheese and gelatin, which also play a role in climate change.

“A more overlooked factor is that these animals often graze on the land and further reduce the vegetation that could help mitigate the GHGs,” she said.

Speaking on actions humans can take to help curb the effect of climate change, Uchendu expressed the belief that science and technology need to scale lower emissions pathways for the agriculture sector.

She suggested that research and development can be better explored to determine the best ways to convert the methane produced into biofuels and other useful energy products.

“These processes are still very small scale,” she said. “While I advocate for flexitarianism – where people generally reduce their meat and dairy consumption because of the current global limitations, I believe that the first option is the more realistic way to go as not everyone will want to switch to plant-based protein,” Uchendu added.

Conclusion

The claim that consuming meat and dairy products affect climate change is true. Experts have suggested, among other things, cutting down on the consumption of these products to mitigate their effect on climate change.

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