The Dairy Industry and Climate Change

In 2010, the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nation (FAO) published “Greenhouse Gas Emissions from the Dairy Sector”, the first product of a much wider study that aims to analyze the livestock sector’s contribution to climate change.

It is now known that 18% of total greenhouse gas emissions come from the livestock industry – the largest share among all human activities that encourage climate change.

The dairy industry, which makes up 4% of the livestock greenhouse gas emissions, is therefore an important area to improve in mitigating climate change. As the FAO stated in the report, “improving the carbon footprint of the dairy sector is a key element of sustainable milk production.”

The study evaluated the greenhouse gas emissions from the dairy sector, without describing a methodology on how the dairy sector can be improved to be more sustainable. The report said that the difficult part is not identifying the quantity of greenhouse gas emissions from the dairy industry, but identifying the ways to reduce them.

An industrial dairy facility. Photo: Wikipedia

Seven years later, in May 2017, UN Executive Secretary of the Convention on Biological Diversity, Dr. Cristiana Paşca Palmer gave an impressive talk on the occasion of 47th Cairo Climate Talks held in Egypt. There, she addressed a crucial point: the close tie between biodiversity and climate change, and how preserving biodiversity can reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Palmer thinks that we categorize too much. “What I want to say is that biodiversity and climate change are artificially separated and treated by us, humans, as separate regimes,” concluding that protection of biodiversity is an essential tool in the fight against climate change. Without maintaining biodiversity, we will not be able to adapt to climate change.

Coming back to the dairy industry, we can talk about biodiversity at any ecosystem, whether in the soil, in the stomach of a cow, in a wooden barrel or in a drop of raw milk.

An example of a biodiverse breeding environment © Slow Food, Braunvieh Cow from Slovenia

For the dairy industry to be sustainable and generate less greenhouse gas emissions, it needs to preserve biodiversity, as much as possible, at every step of the production cycle – from the feed of the animals to the containers used.

In order to have a dairy industry that maintains biodiversity, it is necessary to switch to a different production system that integrates dairy livestock in a biodiverse environment. Moreover, animals that graze in environments rich in biodiversity, such as mountains or hilly areas, will be healthier, more resistant and produce better quality cheese.

Identifying the ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions of the dairy sector is not difficult. The fundamental rule is to aim to preserve variety of life at each ring of the production chain. This is one of the reasons why Slow Food supports small-scale dairy producers who work in balance with all life forms.

Cheese 2017 will be an excellent opportunity to discover the biodiversity of cheese and support artisanal dairy producers coming from around the world. Check the event’s website from the 27th of June to see the entire program!

Sources: FAO, cairoclimatetalks.net

Photo: Wikipedia, The Border Mail

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