UN advisor admits climate meat link flaws

A UN advisor has admitted flaws in the statistics of a report that claimed meat production was responsible for 18% of greenhouse gas emissions, following claims by a US scientist.

Pierre Gerber, who co-wrote the 2006 ‘Livestock’s Long Shadow’ study, conceded to the BBC that statistics were not entirely accurate, demonstrating that livestock production was a greater polluter to the earth’s atmosphere than transport.

Gerber was responding to a speech made by US scientist Dr Frank Mitloehner who described the Food & Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations report as “lopsided analysis”.

Gerber told the BBC: “I must say honestly that he has a point – we factored in everything for meat emissions, and we didn’t do the same thing with transport.”

He added: “But on the rest of the report, I don’t think it was really challenged.”

Nick Allen, sector director for Eblex, said he welcomed the comments made by Gerber. “We have always maintained that comparing livestock production to transport in terms of emissions is a nonsense.

“The figures in the report that are directly compared had always seemed to be some way off what we knew to be the real picture. It seems this has served to cloud public perception by suggesting that animals in a field are more damaging to our environment than vehicles burning fossil fuels.

“It should also be pointed out that the 18% attributed to livestock emissions in the report is a global figure. The statistic for the UK is closer to 5%.

“We welcome the UN’s frank acknowledgement of the limitations of the comparison in the report and can only hope those organisations and individuals who have previously used this data to further their own agenda will amend their arguments.”

A Hybu Cig Cymru - Meat Promotion Wales spokesperson has added that it had always suspected that the figure quoted in the report was too high and the recent comments by Dr Pierre Gerber and Dr Frank Mitloehner have confirmed its suspicions.

He said “At our Annual Conference last year, Climate Change expert Dr Martin Hodson said that the global warming potential of the Welsh red meat industry could be as low as 2%. It is unfortunate that this figure has been so widely used which has distorted the media and public opinion about the role of meat production on climate change. Hopefully a review of the research will identify an accurate and fair picture so that all industries can work together in a balanced way to combat this problem.”

Dr Mitloehner of the University of California, Davis, told a delegation of the American Chemical Society in San Francisco that the comparisons between transport and meat production were misleading, as they were not calculated in the same way.

“This lopsided ‘analysis’ is a classical apples-and-oranges analogy that truly confused the issue,” said Mitloehner earlier this week.

UC Davis associate professor and air quality specialist Mitloehner released his ‘Clearing the Air’ research in December 2009 where he called on developing countries to adopt more efficient, Western-style farming practices, to make more food with less greenhouse gas production.

Mitloehner has admitted that, since 2002, has received $5m in research funding, with 5% of the total from agricultural commodities groups, such as beef producers.

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