The article “‘Meatless Mondays’ educate students on vegetarianism” in the Feb. 24 edition of The California Aggie provides misleading information to students. It suggests appreciable reductions in greenhouse gas emissions can be achieved by not eating meat one day per week.
While this sounds like an excellent remedy, the science demonstrates that a California resident who reduces his or her consumption of animal products will have very little impact on climate change.
Much of the concern about consuming animal products comes from a UN report called “Livestock’s Long Shadow” that claimed 18 percent of global, human-caused greenhouse gas emissions came from animal agriculture. However, this was a global percentage and included land use change (e.g. cutting rainforest for grazing land) in its emissions calculations, which does not relate to U.S. agriculture.
UC Davis researchers recently published an article titled “Clearing the Air: Livestock’s Contribution to Climate Change” in the journal Advances in Agronomy. Comparing state, national and global greenhouse gas emissions data, the article concludes that all animal agriculture (beef, dairy, swine and poultry production) contributes about 3 percent of the total greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. For comparison, the transportation sector contributes approximately 26 percent.
Of course, 3 percent of total U.S. emissions is still important and research is being conducted here at Davis and other universities around the country to reduce emissions, but reducing the consumption of animal products at UC Davis on the basis of lowering the campus’ carbon footprint is misguided.
A 1997 USDA report found that consumers waste at least 26 percent of edible food in the US annually. This means that for a quarter of the US food produced each year, the greenhouse gas emissions, labor and energy required to get food from the farm to the dinner plate is wasted, providing no nutritional benefit to human beings.
Once food waste ends up in a landfill, it will continue to produce greenhouse gas emissions in the form of methane. Therefore, reducing food waste at UC Davis and/or finding uses for food waste (e.g. a biomass digester to generate electricity) – rather than decreasing the consumption of animal products – are more effective options to improve the environmental sustainability of the UC Davis Dining Services.
We encourage UC Davis students and the university to keep thinking critically about the sustainability of our actions, but to always inform your decisions with science to ensure you are having the greatest positive impact on society.
SARA PLACE, MICHELLE CALVO, KIM STACKHOUSE, QIAN WANG, CLAYTON NEUMEIER and ROBERTA FRANCO contributed to this letter.