Carbon footprint falls highlight greener-milk success - industry

By Neil Merrett

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Dairy, Milk, Dairy farming

A new US study charting a 64-year fall in the carbon footprint of producing milk in the country, reflects wider global success in adopting sustainable milk production, according to one national dairy association.

Ed​Komorowski, technical director for Dairy UK, said that curbing greenhouse gasses like methane, which is produced by grazing cows, was a major challenge for the industry. To this end, he added that the findings indicated the industry was moving in the right direction in terms of its environmental aims.

Footprint falls

The comments follow the publication of findings by the University of Illinois suggesting that since 1944, the number of dairy cows and their equivalent methane emissions in the US have fallen from 25.6 million animals to 9.2 million.

Conversely, the report states that milk production was up over the same period to 186bn pounds (lbs) from 117bn lbs.

Methane pain

Mike Hutjens, a dairy expert at the University of Illinois, said that growing concerns over the impacts to the environment of methane production from cows, had generated a barrage of negative publicity for the dairy industry.

"Dairy cows produce methane when digesting feed in the rumen. Methane has 25 times the impact of carbon dioxide,"​ he said. "While a wide range of claims have been made, 6 percent of the total carbon footprint is from agriculture [with] dairy accounting for 0.7 per cent of this total."

Milk production dairy manufacturing have increasingly come under scrutiny, from regulators, green campaigners and even consumers over the perceived detrimental impacts on the environment.

However, Komorowski claimed that the findings showed that significant efforts have been made by farmers, with the aid of manufacturers, to reduce the environmental impact of their operations.

“These things don’t just happen,”​ he stated. “The report reflects the benefits of good nutrient planning and better herd health.”

Dairy challenges

Last year, the president of the International Dairy Federation (IDF) said that the environment was the biggest challenge facing the global dairy industry.

Komorowski added that groups like Dairy UK, along with its counterparts around the world, were taking the initiative to encourage great sustainability across the dairy production chain from the farmyard up to retail shelves.

He took the example of the organisations Milk Roadmap, which Dairy UK says has garnered significant interest from global industry, as a key example of the industry’s commitments.

Milk Road map

The scheme specifically targets greener production of liquid milk, outlining a number of targets such as reducing packaging waste, cutting energy and water use during manufacture and curbing carbon emissions.

Although specifically based around liquid milk manufacture, Komorowski said that overall blueprint could be adopted to production of more labour intensive value-added products sought by consumers as well.

Eco-attacks

Not everyone shares in the optimism of the dairy industry over its success in attempting to cut the environmental impacts of the industry though.

Sustain, which claims to be an alliance for sustainable food production, earlier this year called for a choice-edit system of menus and food offerings in a bid to cut the carbon footprint of what we eat, targeting dairy and other livestock industries as key contributors to greenhouse gas emissions.

Citing recent United Nations figures, the group said that animal farming has led to the creation of more greenhouse gas emissions than all cars, lorries and planes in the world combined.

Sustain claimed that this was related to a number of factors including the large amounts of animal feed required for production of a small amount of meat or milk.

Concerns over converting forest areas into dairy farm pasture have also been expressed by environmental groups such as Greenpeace, which earlier in the year attempted to reforest part of a New Zealand government-owned dairy farm.

The organisation said that the action was an attempt to raise awareness of its concerns over intensive dairy farming in the regions of the Central North Island and Canterbury.

"Large-scale deforestation and intensification of dairy farming is being pursued with the bottom line, not New Zealand's larger social, economic and environmental welfare in mind,"​ Greenpeace stated during the protest.

Related topics: Markets, Fresh Milk, Sustainability

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