This entry is the latest in a series on innovations in the climate and energy world.

The only place cows and coriander came together...until now

The greenhouse gases that come from livestock are silent but deadly. Conventional wisdom, originating in a 2006 UN Food and Agriculture Organization report, says that livestock are responsible for 18 percent of global emissions, though a 2009 article by Robert Goodland and Jeff Anhang in World Watch magazine puts the number as high as 51 percent. (These numbers were so controversial, and received with such skepticism—including within Worldwatch’s  own Climate and Energy team—that a discussion forum was set up right here at ReVolt).

A large fraction of livestock emissions are the result of the methane that cows and other ruminants emit—in the case of cattle, between 90 and 180 kilograms annually. This is equivalent to 1,800 to 3,600 kilograms of carbon dioxide-equivalent.

A cow’s diet has a great deal to do with how much gas it produces. Substituting alfalfa and flaxseed for a portion of the corn and soy put into cow feed was found to reduce methane emissions by 14 percent (and sweeten their breath, a bonus!) on at least one farm. New research out of Newcastle University in the U.K., however, shows that this might be small potatoes. Coriander and turmeric, spices that are commonly used in curry dishes, were found to reduce livestock methane emissions by as much as 40 and 30 percent, respectively, when added to feed.

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agriculture, FDA, India, Innovation, livestock, Methane

In an article in the November/December 2009 [PDF] edition of World Watch Magazine (“Livestock and Climate Change”), authors Robert Goodland and Jeff Anhang argue that livestock emissions have been severely underestimated. In their view, livestock and their byproducts account for at least 32.6 billion tons of carbon dioxide equivalent each year, or 51 percent of annual worldwide GHG emissions.  Based on their analysis, Goodland and Anhang recommend a radical decrease in meat consumption in order to help slow climate change.

Goodland and Anhang’s numbers are far above those reported in a widely cited 2006 report, Livestock’s Long Shadow, by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization. It  estimates that 18 percent of annual worldwide GHG emissions are attributable to cattle, buffalo, sheep, goats, camels, pigs, and poultry. “Livestock and Climate Change” has stirred intensive discussion in a number of fora. While some readers supported the authors’ assessment and recommendations, others disagreed with either or both.

We want to provide everyone who is interested in this important debate—experts or not—with an open forum for discussion. While the magazine’s masthead clearly states that “Opinions expressed in World Watch are those of the authors, and do not necessarily reflect the positions of the Worldwatch Institute,” scientific integrity and the search for viable sustainability solutions are the foundation of the Institute’s daily work.

We invite you to contribute to the discussion by commenting on the article here. The most constructive and compelling comments will also be printed in a future issue of World Watch. In addition, please check out our blog, Nourishing the Planet, where the Worldwatch food and agriculture team argues for a different, and in their view more effective, way to address mixed-crop livestock and sustainable food than the Goodland/ Anhang article recommends.

agriculture, Climate Change, emissions reductions, energy-related emissions, livestock, livestock emissions