Agriculture and it's effect on greenhouse gas emissions - Prof Frank Mitloehner
Transcript dictated using AI transcription services, errors may occur. Please conatct Mikki for clarification.
Welcome, hi, I'm Mikki and this is Mikkipedia, where I sit down and chat to doctors, professors, athletes, practitioners, and experts in their fields related to health, nutrition, fitness, and wellbeing, and I'm delighted that you're here.
Hey everyone, it's Mikki here, you're listening to Mikkipedia, and this week on the podcast I speak to Dr Frank Mitloehner about the impact of greenhouse gas emissions from the agricultural sector on the global climate change challenge. We talk about the perception of the agricultural sector and how this has changed over time in his career in light of both climate change, animal welfare, and this real push to a plant-based movement.
We talk about the impact of a methane tax on New Zealand farmers and what other solutions are potentially available that are used internationally to help reduce methane emissions and how appropriate they might be here or in other contexts. We talk about the things that really move the needle on climate change, which
may not actually be the agricultural sector and our red meat consumption. We talk about the power of buying locally and talk about other topics related to environmental health. This is a super important episode for anyone that has an opinion in this space just because the more broad your perspective is the better you're able to make informed decisions that you can feel really good about. So Dr Frank Mitliner who was
Introduced to me by Saskia Lesser, she's awesome and she always says things like, Mikki you need to get this person on your show. 9 times out of 10 she is right. So Dr Frank Mitloehner is a professor and air quality specialist in cooperative extension in the department of animal science at UC Davis. As such he shares his knowledge and research both domestically and abroad with students, scientists, farmers and ranchers,
and the public at large, so he is able to inform at all levels. Frank is also the director of the CLEAR Centre, which has two cores, both research and communications. And the CLEAR Centre brings clarity to the intersection of animal agriculture and the environment, helping our global community understand the environmental and human health impacts of livestock, so we can make informed decisions about the foods we eat,
while reducing environmental impacts. As part of his position with UC Davis, he collaborates with the animal agricultural sector to create better efficiencies and mitigate pollutants. Frank has actually been down to New Zealand a number of times to share his knowledge with our farmers. He is passionate about understanding and mitigating air emissions from livestock operations, as well as studying the implications of these emissions on the health of farm workers and
In addition, he is focusing on the food production challenge that will become a global issue as the world's population grows to nearly 10 billion people by 2050. Frank received a Master of Science degree in the Animal Science in Agricultural Engineering from the University of Leipzig in Germany and a Doctoral degree in Animal Science from Texas Tech University and was recruited by UC Davis in 2002.
Philip's first ever position focusing on the relationship between livestock and air quality. So look, Frank is, he has been in this game a long time and so it's really interesting to get his perspectives on how things have changed over time, but also how the public perception has changed over time. That's super interesting. And I think you're really going to love this conversation. I've got links for where you can find Frank both from the CLEAR Center, but also on Twitter where he is the GHG Guru and is
Really prolific at sharing some really great information over there. Before we crack on into the interview though, I'd just like to remind you that the best way to support the podcast is to hit the subscribe button on your favourite podcast listening platform. That increases the visibility of the podcast out there, and amongst the literally thousands of other podcasts, so more people get the opportunity to learn from the guests that I have on the show. Alright team, please enjoy this conversation that I have with Dr Frank Mitloehner.
also wrote a rebuttal about this. If you go to clear.ucdavis.edu, my webpage, you'll find it on the blogs. There's a rebuttal. But anyhow, so there are some negative and there are many, many positives. And the many positives make it worth my time, for sure. Well, it must because you've been in your field for close to 30 years now. Am I right in that? Yes. Yeah. Frank, could we sort of start off then with...
Me asking you like what inspired you to enter a career in agricultural science? Was it something in the way you grew up or? Well, in my early 20s, I wanted to be a psychiatrist. So that might surprise you and I applied to go to medical school, but my application was rejected. And just during that time or right before that time, I spent some time in Africa and visited
places I had never visited before. I was totally ignorant toward animal agriculture, but I really enjoyed what I saw there. And so now thinking that I was rejected to go to medical school and coming back from Africa, going to a university to see what the majors were that were available, there was one that was called tropical subtropical agriculture.
And that sounded really great, especially to a young man who just came back from Africa. So I signed up for it and then right after I signed up for it, the admissions committee from the university where I was rejected wrote to me and said, dear Mr. Midlöner, we are sorry to inform you that we erroneously rejected and we're looking forward to welcoming you in the fall.
And I saw this letter. I wanted to be a psychiatrist for two years prior to this event. I ripped it into pieces, threw it in the trash can and became an agriculturalist. And I'm very proud and happy that I did so because I love my career. And the reason why I love it is because I'm having a lot of impact in the real world. I get to work with farmers and I particularly enjoy that. And I get to do something that really makes a difference. Yeah, completely. And Frank, like...
You've been like clearly that this is like what three decades being in agricultural science you must have seen or imagine quite a shift in. I don't know whether it's just the public perception of agriculture and policies around agriculture like how has it changed over time with our understanding of how you know.
raising cattle has impacted on the environment and health and all the rest of it. So I think what has changed is that we now live in a world today with 8 billion food experts.
Everybody thinks they know so much about food. And in reality, we live in a society, not just here in the US, but in societies with a lot of ignorance around food production. People are really removed from where their food comes from. They associate a given supermarket with a source of their food, and they don't associate the people who you're talking to, the farmers and ranchers, and they don't really understand how food is produced.
They also have a romanticized vision of what food production should look like. They're thinking of those people on their knees pulling out weeds on the field or they are thinking of all livestock, poultry, two pigs, two cattle, everything is on pasture, 24-7.
They envision the red barns in the background and so on. They don't really understand how modern animal agriculture is conducted and why, but they have strong visions. And so that really has changed. Yeah. And do you know something I don't understand, Frank, is there's a lot of powerful people behind an anti-agricultural movement that has...
that have a lot of money and a lot of influence and a lot of power in certain areas. I don't understand where the resistance comes from from them. Have you given any thought to why you've got the likes of James Cameron buying up truckloads of farmland in New Zealand to stop anyone else using it or whatever it is that he's doing?
Do you spend time thinking about stuff like that or actually that's probably just a waste of your energy? I don't know. Well, like all of us, I'm surprised to see Bill Gates being the largest landowner, agricultural landowners in the United States. Or as you said, Cameron and so on, they are buying land and officially they say they want to do so in order to rewilder it or to conduct some kind of agriculture the way they think it should be done.
There are many motivations. Many of these super rich folks just have lines of alternatives that they seek to sell. Let's say plant-based alternatives to meat and to milk and so on. Others just feel for ethical reasons we shouldn't eat animal-sourced foods. It doesn't really make any difference, but they might think it does. I think it's more virtual signaling than anything else. Yeah. Yeah.
For sure. It's interesting what you say about Bill Gates and the production of the meat or the plant-based alternatives. There was quite a lot of, I remember maybe it was last year, maybe it was even the year before when they were released on the stock market. I don't know how this thing works, but you can buy shares in this and stocks go up and it all looks amazing. Then suddenly every single report it seems that I've seen of late is that.
These things are just plummeting. Either people aren't buying, I mean, again, I don't understand how that works, but they're not quite what they were proposed to be, I think. Yeah, both on the meat and on the milk alternative front. Companies like Oatly on the milk alternatives or Beyond Meat on the meat alternative side, they have gone crashing down.
And that is particularly surprising because the drum beat has been so loud of particularly media outlets favoring those and promoting those for years and in the United States you have a situation where today 0.3% of all protein cells 0.3% are the plant-based alternatives and 99.7% are the originals
So it has not really made any dent. And what some people felt was a initial excitement. And really, that's what it was. That excitement has subsided. And people now know what these things taste like. And most of them feel, yeah, they're not bad. But they're not like the original. And so they move back. Yeah, OK. So it was at least about.
producing these for people who were already convinced that they'd want to eat this meat and more about trying to sway others who eat meat to sort of jump on board, I guess. You know, if you are a dedicated, anti-livestock person and you don't want to eat animals because it's against your whatever beliefs, ethical or religious or so believes, then the last thing you want is buying something that looks like meat. And that tastes like meat, it smells like meat.
If you are in that camp, then you want something that doesn't look like meat and smells like meat and reminds you of meat because you are not into that. So these products are not really aimed at vegans or so. They're aimed at meat eaters and dairy consumers and so on that feel for whatever reason that they should consume less. Those so-called flexitarians, for example.
the total rate of consumption is just not where these companies want it to be. And now the newest hype is cell-based. Is it lab meat? Yeah. So now the companies go out and say, oh yeah, we can build meat from stem cells. And in a couple of years, it will be just like the real thing. And that's, to me, that is just a ridiculous.
I do not believe that for a second. I was always critical of the plant-based alternatives, not because I think people should have the choice to eat and consume what they want, it's a very personal choice, but the hype around it was something that I objected to. But when it comes to cell-based, the so-called lab-grown, I am certain that this will not be a thing. I am certain about this.
There are many reasons. One of them is if you cell culture these deals, then one of the greatest challenges is to keep them safe from pathogens, for example, because while an animal has an immune system that can fend off pathogens, a petri dish or whatever kind of container you use will not have any immune system. And so you will have to keep these environments incredibly sterile.
I assume that these folks won't flood their products with antibiotics in order to prevent contamination, but that in itself makes it pretty much impossible to produce that at scale. That's the thing, right? Is that if it's supposed to be an alternative to feed the world, if or however that, but like, yeah, that does not seem possible. I totally agree. Yeah.
Obviously, you work in greenhouse gases and the environmental impact of agriculture to say climate change and things like that. So vague when I say things like that. There is a lot of debate about that environmental impact. I've read a lot of and I engage with Diana Rogers' work, who I know that you've spoken on her podcast, Sustainable Dish, and at same events as her and things like that.
But yet there, of course, the majority opinion is that livestock production is a major contributor to climate change, which is not, as I understand it, based on your work. But can we then start with understanding the scope of actual contribution of agriculture on climate? What are we talking about? And where are the myths? So the greatest confusion comes about the issue of boundaries.
So in different parts of the world, the contribution of livestock on the environment, for example, on climate is drastically different. There are some countries where the relative importance of animal production on the environment is relatively small and there are others where it's massive. The Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change, IPCC, that's the world leading body on climate, estimates that 80%, 80%, 80% of the climate impacts of
Animal agriculture worldwide, 80% of that impact, stems from developing countries. Please don't get this wrong. This is not Frank Midler pointing fingers at somebody else saying you are the problem. But this is me citing the IPCC as saying, and that surprises many, that the main corporates really sit in countries where we have massive livestock herds.
The reason why we have massive livestock herds there is because livestock fulfill all kinds of other purposes in addition to nutritional. They could be a currency system. They could be a social security system. They could be a wedding gift means or all of the above. They could be used as draft animals.
and so on. It's not just eating an animal, you know, as the purpose for growing this animal, but eating the animal is one of many purposes animals have, let's say, in Africa and many parts of Asia. Now, just imagine this. In the United States, we have nine million dairy cows. Nine. In India, they are 300 million. And the majority of those in India are animals that after they
done lactating, so after their last lactation, they cannot be slaughtered for religious reasons and so the gates opened and those animals will be released into the open. They can just go wherever they want and then they are walking around in towns and cities eating whatever they find and they do so for years and years and years of their lives. These are what I call idle animals. Idle because they don't produce any more food, nobody will ever eat them.
but they're eating, excreting, they're polluting, but they don't have a productive purpose in their life left. This is a very prevalent situation, not just in India, but it's also something that we find all over Africa and so on. Globally, all livestock combined produces about 11% of all greenhouse gases. The FAO, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations originally back in 2006,
estimated that number to be 18. Then it was reduced to 14.5. And the latest estimate from last year is that globally all livestock combined emit 11% of all global greenhouse gases. Is that a change in the contribution of agriculture? Is that a change in agricultural
sort of production area or is that just a change in other things having more of an impact like proportionately? You mean why the percentages came down? Yeah, yeah. No, they came down because assessment methods have been changed. We have a better feel for how to quantify things appropriately. I criticized the original report back from 2006 publicly because it said that livestock produces more greenhouse gases than the global transportation system.
That was in the livestock's long shadow publication and I criticized that because I knew that they use different methodologies to assess the impact of livestock on climate versus the impact of transportation on climate. But then they compared livestock and transportation directly. I criticized that, they accepted my criticism and then they didn't say that again. But that is actually what led the horse to leave the barn. That is why the world has been talking about.
the impacts of livestock on climate as much as they have. Yeah. Okay. So is it the, the, the people who talk about it, aren't aware, or are they just choosing to ignore? I guess it depends on who's talking. No, they are aware, but it's, uh, but it's viewed as the Achilles heel of animal agriculture. And so it's being used as such. Now, now, um, as I told you in developing countries, that impact of animal agriculture can be quite high in a country like Paraguay, let's say.
They have twice as many cattle as people. And so there it could be as high as 50%. In a country like Ethiopia, it could be as high as 90% as what the impact of livestock is on the total country's carbon footprint. In the United States, that contribution is 4%. So there's a large variability throughout the world with respect to what the contribution of livestock are to the country's...
greenhouse gas inventory. And that's why a global average like 18 or 14.5 or now 11% doesn't really capture the nuance that is needed when discussing those things. Yeah. It doesn't matter, Frank, because of course you've got production of the greenhouse gases, but what about contribution to food supplies? So if you've got a country that exports a lot of their...
beef and dairy like New Zealand does, is that, how does that impact, I suppose, the overall contribution of these greenhouse gases? And is that accounted for, I guess? So if you have a country that exports a lot, and if that country is particularly efficient in exporting, in producing those goods and then exporting,
then that is probably a good thing because it replaces a relatively less efficient production system elsewhere in the world. So countries like New Zealand or Uruguay or Ireland, they use extensive systems. They use forage-based systems, so the animals own pasture by and large, and they are upcycling something like grass.
containing cellulose, and cellulose is the world's most abundant biomass. They are eating that cellulose, nobody else can eat it and digest it and make a food product out of it, but they can, and they do. And so to me this is a very important part of food security globally, that we make use of ruminant livestock that help us to make use of something nobody else can, and they are converting that in some of the world's most nutrient dense
and nutritious food because a glass of milk or an egg or a piece of meat is not just high in protein and high in one or two additional essential nutrients, but there are dozens of essential nutrients in these food items from highly bioavailable iron to selenium to vitamin B12 and essential amino acids and so on and so on. I don't need to tell you.
But that's really what makes these products so special. It's not just calories that we're dealing with. I always hear people comparing calories from plant-versus-animal-sauce foods. We are not living in, by and large, we are not living in a calorie-deprived world. We are living in a nutrient-deprived world where particularly low-income groups cannot afford buying high-nutrient-dense food. And therefore, they buy high calorie.
dense food, and that's why we have obesity. I 100% agree with that. So greenhouse gases then, so actually now we understand that agriculture isn't quite the, it doesn't have such a massive influence on climate to what we might have thought it does. So because those numbers have been adjusted, it depends on sort of geographical location as to what kind of impact it has.
We know, we hear a lot about greenhouse gases. I don't know if we truly understand what these actually are and what potential impact they have, Frank. So can you outline for us the different greenhouse gases and what we're talking about here? Yeah, so first of all, the greatest source of greenhouse gases in the world are through the use of fossil fuel, which is oil, coal, and gas.
Oil, coal, and gas are pure carbon that was in the ground for a long time. Every time we extract and burn it, we're adding that carbon to the atmosphere. So that's the number one source. But livestock is also a considerable source. And that is why we're working very hard to reduce that. So what are the gases that we're talking about? There are three main gases. The one is CO2, carbon dioxide. That's what you and I are exhaling right now.
But the main source of CO2 is the use of fossil fuels, oil, coal and gas. Every time we burn it by driving a car, let's say, we are producing CO2 put in the atmosphere and that gas stays in the atmosphere for a thousand years. So that's one gas, CO2, that's the main one. Second one is methane. Methane is special because methane is more powerful than CO2, much more powerful. But the good thing about methane is it has a short lifespan.
After about a decade it's gone. So while CO2 is in the air for a thousand years, methane is for about ten, twelve years. And then it's gone. The third one is nitrous oxide. And nitrous oxide is double bad because it is 260 times worse than CO2. And it's long lived. It lives within those molecules in the air for 120 or more years.
So these three are the main greenhouse gases, I repeat, carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide. And the main gas from animal agriculture is methane. And here from two sources, the one is the belching of cattle. When they belch, methane comes out, the front end. And the second one is the animal manure. When that manure decomposes, it also produces methane. Yeah. Okay. I've heard there is something called a
I might get this wrong. And this is why I'm talking to you, because you can correct me. Is there some sort of methanotrop? Is that what it's called? Like some sort of bacteria that helps break down methane. So- In the soil, yes. In the soil. Yeah. How does that? Yeah, yeah, no, sorry. But the more important one is, the more important one is a group of compounds called radicals. And they're in the atmosphere.
And these radicals destroy methane and that normally happens within a decade or so. So a methane molecule that's in the air meets a radical, it's called a hydroxyl radical, and this hydroxyl radical oxidizes the methane and converts it back to where it came from. And that's CO2 and water. Okay. And then is that...
I've heard of carbon sequestering. Is that anything to do with what you've just described? Carbon sequestration refers to the process by which soils can accumulate carbon. And the way that works is that the plants that grow on the soil, in the soil, during photosynthesis, suck carbon out of the air. So the CO2 is taken on by the plant.
plant then converts that carbon from the CO2 and makes it either into cellulose or into starch, so into carbohydrates. And what the plant doesn't make into cellulose or into starch will go into the soil. So the plant takes it out of the air and then soil microbes take it on from the plant's roots and lock it away in the soil. And that process of locking that carbon in the soil is called soil carbon sequestration.
Soils can sequester about a third of all human-caused carbon. And so it's a very important part of our fight against the changing climate to enrich our soils and help in soil carbon sequestration efforts. Does grazing cattle help with that process? Grazing cattle can help, not in all cases, but it can help because what happens when you graze
schedule where they don't stay on the same field the whole time but they go from one plot to the next to the next. What happens there is the same as what used to happen with buffaloes roaming the prairies of the United States, let's say. These animals, they chew down, they eat down the vegetation stimulating those plants to regrow more so than if you don't chew them down.
It's almost like when I go to the barber frequently, every week or so, then my hair grows faster as if I don't grow it, as if I don't cut it for a long time. So the same is true for these forages. If they get eaten down, then that initiates regrowth faster. So first of all, the grazing of this forage will facilitate
increased growth. But secondly, let's not forget what comes out the other end. The animal when grazing that forage will also drop excreta, urine and feces, and then the hoof action of those animals will entrench that excreta into the soil, enriching that soil with nutrients that soil microbes desire and need.
And that converts a dirt that's relatively low in organic activity into rich soil. And the more grazing you have for a longer period of time, the more you enrich the soil with nutrients and the more you accelerate soil carbon sequestration. Yeah, okay. So that and all of that sounds quite favorable in terms of the impact of grazing cattle on the environment and even if...
It might be a smaller, I don't know, a smaller percentage of benefit, but still sounds like it's a beneficial sort of process. It depends on where you are and how you do it. So not any kind of grazing is great. If you just leave animals on the same plot of land forever, then that's not very good for the land. But if you rotate them, it can be very good. And the other thing is the soil sequestration is contingent upon...
whether you have a poor soil or a rich soil. When you have a rich soil that means there's already a lot of carbon in there then that rich soil will not take on a lot of carbon through soil carbon sequestration because it's almost saturated. If you have a poor soil then the opposite is true. A poor soil can take on much more carbon because it's not saturated yet. So you have kind of a
It goes deep and then after a while it plateaus off. Okay. And is this where, I'm sure you're, yeah, Alan Savery in the Savery Institute. Like I watched a Ted talk that he did. This was several years ago now, that I watched it showing the deforestation of land, maybe in Africa, actually, I think it was, and then the grazing of animals on the land was able to bring that land back to life.
where it had like completely had the desertification of land actually completely like turned into a desert. So is that the kind of thing that we're talking about the rotating cattle is quite beneficial. Yeah, so I'm not a big fan of that work. Not because I don't believe in soil carbon sequestration, not because I do absolutely believe in it. But in the particular theories,
that he was reporting. I'm not a big fan of that because I have asked him what part of these findings are peer reviewed and published. And he said, none. And I said, why not? And he said, because it cannot be researched. And as a scientist, I don't believe in things that cannot be researched because everything can be researched. So I would like to see that published and then I have much more of a, then I have a much better feeling about it. Not totally appreciate that. Now that's really interesting.
Frank, can we chat about the methane then? Because this is something which has garnered attention obviously in New Zealand with different sort of policies, sort of put in, or I believe it's a proposed policy for a methane tax. I'm not sure sort of how far down the line that's actually sort of come. Can we sort of talk about what it is that is being proposed and just your thoughts around it? Yeah, so
Methane is, and I alluded to that earlier, a special gas and so far that it is about approximately 30 times more powerful than CO2 in trapping heat from the sun. So when a methane molecule is hit by a solar beam, it traps the heat from the sun and it does so pretty well. But it doesn't trap it for very long. So I call methane the fast and furious greenhouse gas as a result. So if we reduce methane, and that's really special.
If we reduce methane, we can reduce warming. And because methane is the main greenhouse gas from animal agriculture, we are quite unique with respect to being a sector that can reduce warming because that's our main greenhouse gas. Other sectors don't have methane as main greenhouse gas. We do. So that puts us in a place where we in animal agriculture can be a main solution to our climate.
our fight for climate change. We can actually be a solution provider, not just be a lesser problem, but we can be part of a climate solution if we reduce methane substantially. So your government has done something very smart, which is it has separated the different gases. They're not just mixing them all up saying CO2 equivalent this and that, but they are saying we have ruled we have goals for this gas, for that gas, and the other gas.
It's a split gas approach, which is the right thing to do. The issue I have with the New Zealand approach is that they are using a tax, which while it's not very high for methane from ruminant, it's still a tax. And farmers don't respond well to what I call the cane approach. The cane approach is the use of rules, regulations, fines, or taxes.
I have not seen examples throughout the world where the cane approach worked well. But what I have observed is an approach that we use here in California, which I call the carrot approach. And the carrot approach is one where the reductions of methane are financially incentivized. If you reduce methane, then we the state help you to achieve that. It's much like, let's say if I were to buy an electric car.
then I would get a tax credit of seven or $10,000. That's like that, okay? So if a farmer says, I will invest hundreds of thousands of dollars, the public will say, we will help you with that because it's of public interest for you to do it. And then they can do things such as cover their lagoons or do other things to reduce methane and develop new products like...
fuels or they produce power and so on. And so that approach, the carrot approach has gotten our farmers to achieve 30% of their methane reduction goal over the last few years alone. And we here in California have the strictest methane law in the world mandating 40% reduction of methane to be achieved by the year 2030. So in a few years from now. Yeah. And they will achieve that.
if they've already got 30%. So the covering of lagoons, are you saying they can produce power from something like that? Yes. So imagine a lagoon, of course, contains manure. It's in a very diluted form, but it contains manure. And there are microbes in that lagoon that produce methane gas and some other gases. And that gas mix is called biogas.
So you now have this lagoon covered, meaning this biogas can no longer get into the atmosphere. Instead, they are siphoning off this biogas, they're cleaning it up, and they're making it into what's called renewable natural gas, aren't you? Amazing. And this renewable natural gas is a fuel for heavy-duty trucks and buses. So this fuel is then used by these heavy-duty vehicles to replace diesel. So first, you reduce emissions on the dairy.
Secondly, you reduce emissions in the transportation system. That is the generation of the most carbon negative fuel. Carbon negative is a good thing, even though it sounds bad, but carbon negative fuel type that our farmers now sell in addition to the milk as they did originally. Amazing. And so in New Zealand, are the farmers being taxed for every
how they have? How does the text work? I don't know all the details, but I do know that every farmer will, of course, have to proclaim what kind of animals they have, how many and how they're housed and all of that. Then they have to show that they are working on methane, that they are reducing methane versus a given deadline or so.
that was in the past. And if they don't reduce methane, then they have to pay this tax. And this tax is not very high, but it's a tax, and that's why many people, not all farmers are opposed to this, but I heard many people who were. That tax is then taken and not put into the general funds of the country of New Zealand, but this tax money will then be taken to help research ways to mitigate further.
So it will just stay in the sector and help reduce the emissions of the livestock sector, either through research or implementation. I don't know. I'm not very sure about that last part, but I know that this will not be taken out of this purpose area. Yeah. And Frank, is there any reason why what has happened in California can't happen in New Zealand? No, there's no reason.
Our state is quite happy with what happened here because 2% of the public investment for methane reduction in the state, 2% went into the dairy sector. And that has led to 30% of the total emission reductions through these public means. And so a 2% financial investment has led to a 30% emissions outcome. So that's a very high return on investment. I've shared that when I was in New Zealand with
the Climate Change Commission and many others. And I think it got some attention because if in doubt, wouldn't you want to work with the farmers and not against them? Yeah, for sure. It was interesting in the paper last year, there was a big article about how proud the ministers were, how well the agriculture and the beef and lamb industry has been doing for export. And New Zealand's really shining on that stage. And then...
know, the next breath, they're taxing farmers for having, you know, for the fact that they have cows in the first place. Like it's just seems very, seems like two sides of a coin really. Yeah, I mean, everybody, every one of your listeners who has kids at home will know that the carrot approach works better than the stick approach. It shouldn't be a surprise for anyone. Okay, it just works. It works because
Instead of pointing fingers at farmers saying what you do is bad, inherently bad, and that's why we are taxing you or why we are fining you or why we are regulating you. Instead of doing that, you say, look, we understand the sector here comes with some unintended consequences. Yes, you can turn certain nutrients nobody can digest into things like meat and milk. That's a great thing. But the unintended consequence is that the microbes that make that conversion happen lead to methane.
We will help you to minimize these emissions through a voluntary incentive-based approach. And that voluntary incentive-based approach is something that I have observed and witnessed does happen. And in the next five years, half of our cows here in the state of California, we have the number one dairy production in the United States.
About half of all of our cows will produce manure that ends up in a covered lagoon that will produce fuel for heavy duty trucks, for buses, and for electric vehicles. And so I'm very bullish about that. And so is the state. It sounds like an amazing solution, actually. It sounds like a real win-win for all parties concerned. Yeah. I mean, I have to say the New Zealanders are doing a lot of work on the research front to find solutions under their conditions, because your farmers
cannot just cut and paste from our experiences here because our dairies are much larger. They are 1,500 cows on average and they are not on pasture. The vast majority of our cows are not on pasture but in stalls in barns and the feed is brought to them. But under your conditions, researchers have looked into low methane breeding because methane is actually a heritable trait.
which of your cows are low and which ones are high methane producers. And then select for those that are low methane producers. I know the New Zealanders have worked on a methane vaccine for many years. It's not where we want it to be yet. It's not ready to go, but there is progress. And there's a lot of progress also in the area of feed additives, things that you can add to the diet of a cow or any kind of livestock to reduce enteric methane.
And then there are other approaches in the area of manure management and treatment. So in the next five years, we will have an assortment of treatments to reduce emissions under your conditions in New Zealand, under our conditions in California and elsewhere. And the question will be, what will these different places use? The carrot or the stick? Yeah.
Yeah, for sure. I remember reading something about seaweed being put into the feed of cows. Is that one of the potential additives that you're thinking of? Well, this is an additive that has been studied extensively, particularly in Australia and New Zealand, because it comes from your neck of the word. It is not the seaweed that you find here at the California coast. It's a tropical one.
It has the intended consequence of reducing methane, but it also has some unintended consequences. So there are some issues with it and around it that have to be figured out first before it's released to Joe Blow the farmer. Yeah, yeah. Well, it's good to hear that there are loads of potential tools coming the way of the farmer that helps.
reduce the amount of methane without necessarily, hopefully impacting on their livelihood. Because I think that's the, yeah, that's huge. Frank, is there any quantification on the consequence of increasing these plant-based meat alternatives in the environment? Because I often feel, or that's not often something that's discussed. People talk about the impact of meat on the environment, and I'm actually interested to hear your thoughts on.
Meatless Mondays and all the rest of it. But what about the increased production of food sources like this? Do we know much about what potential problem or otherwise this could have? First of all, the market share of these things is so small that whatever the outcome is, whatever the relatively lower impact is that they have on the environment is so minuscule that nobody can measure it.
Even though when you read it in the newspapers, they say, well, it has 50% less this and 40% less that and 90% less and so on. But the acceptance of the population of these and for these products is so small that the total reduction of emissions is just minuscule. It is very clear though that any kind of plant-based alternative will have for the most...
environmental issues at lower impact than the plant-based and then the animal-based originals. And that is simply because you have one less trophic level. The animal is now, which is in between, is now gone on the plant-based side and therefore you are having lower emissions. So in general, I would say the general statement that plant-based alternatives have a relatively lower impact on the environment, I think that holds true. Okay. And
If we all did go vegan, let's say, what would the outcome be on climate change, just broadly speaking? Yeah. So two scientists here in the United States by the name of White and Hall, they have done this exercise and published it in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, PNAS. They looked at what would happen if we were to either go...
meatless Monday or all the way to a total vegan society in the United States. And what they found was that a meatless Monday would reduce the carbon footprint of the United States by 0.3%. That's if 330 million Americans would stop eating all animal source foods one day a week. 0.3%. If the entire country were to go vegan, no more animal source foods whatsoever.
then the United States carbon footprint would go down by 2.6%. So this flies in the face of most people who are tooting that this is one of the best things you can do and if you do it then we are holding climate change and this is not going to happen. Yeah okay that's far less dramatic than what you would have anticipated, what I would have anticipated actually in terms of how you know the potential impact and of course
Just, I mean, I know the listeners will be clear on this. We are talking about climate change and the impact. We're not talking about, we're not trying to convince anyone who is vegan to not be vegan or anything like that, but just that this is the reality of what would happen if everyone was exclusively plant-based. Yeah, let's have a couple of disclaimers in there. The first one is I wanna be very clear that I will never tell anybody what to eat or even suggest what to eat because these are very personal decisions.
much like who you pray to and who you marry and who you vote for and so on. These are personal decisions. What I eat is a personal decision based on preferences, based on religion, based on taste preferences and so on. So they're all kinds of things. So if somebody says I'm a vegan and here are the reasons, why not? Of course. And if somebody says I'm in a carnival and here are my reasons, well...
It's that person's decision. So I totally agree and I want to make that very clear. The only reason why we discuss this is because that is the greatest departure of what people currently eat. And that's why that's being discussed. The 2.6% reduction of the carbon footprint due to an entire country going vegan is based on US estimates.
amounts to 4% of total greenhouse gases according to the Environmental Protection Agency. That number would be different in New Zealand, where the livestock sector makes up a big part of your carbon footprint due to the large number of animals you have and relatively fewer industries. Yeah, yeah. No, that makes sense. Frank, I'm going to go back to the question about the
Something that we hear quite a lot is that small-scale organic farming is more sustainable than your conventional agricultural model, and particularly that which is in the States. Is that in fact the case? If we're thinking about the climate and the environment, is that the only way to go?
is not a good predictor for emissions. So let's say 10 farms, 10 dairy farms with 100 cows are not more sustainable than one dairy farm with a thousand cows. What determines the environmental performance of a dairy or any livestock operation is not its size but its management. How this thing is operated. What I can tell you is I have seen hundreds if not more
of farms from very small to very large. And I mean very small and I mean very large. And I can tell you that I've seen many small farms that didn't have the resources to really take care of many of the things society expects today. For example, welfare audits and animal welfare audits and animal welfare with environmental enrichment and with obeying to all kinds of environmental laws and so on.
The large ones have to. They do not fly under the radar. They are being visited by inspectors and so on. They must do these things. And as a result, they do have staff trained and employed to be specialized in this. So for example, every dairy I know here in this state has a veterinarian or has a PhD nutritionist who formulates the diets.
They have engineers who deal with the manure. They have a bunch of experts who deal with a different subject matter issues at hand. The small dairy could never afford that. That is not me saying at all that small ones are good or bad. I'm just saying size is not a good predictor of emissions. Okay. And then following on from that, obviously supporting your local farmer is...
important for the livelihood of people in your community and things like that. What's the impact? What about the carbon sort of footprint of getting meat elsewhere or getting any sort of produce elsewhere? Like is there a disconnect between what people think in terms of carbon footprint of buying locally versus bringing in from somewhere else? Because I'm just sort of thinking...
Not everyone has the budget to buy organic local at their farmers market. So, and often there's a guilt associated with this. Well, this is actually one of the greatest myths out there. Okay, so let me first say I do like my local farmers because I know them and I just like them and so I do go to a farmers market at times and buy products there and so on. But not because I want to minimize my environmental footprint.
because I know that that's not true. And it's also not true that if I buy my eggs at a local farm 10 miles away from me, that that would be particularly good for the environment. If, and I've seen publications on this, OK, where a person driving 10 miles, so five miles one way, to buy eggs at a farm has much more of an environmental footprint.
then that same person going to Walmart and buying a dozen of eggs there. Why? Because of efficiencies of the different systems. This big thing, this Walmart, and so I'm not a great fan of Walmart, I'm just saying because that's such a big, big company. When they buy eggs and when they transport and store and so on eggs, they do this in enormous quantities. And because of that, the
per egg, let's say, or per glass of milk, in the case of dairy, a contribution of transportation becomes minuscule because you now use a huge semi-truck or even a train to transport a certain good. In the case of New Zealand, you are transporting lamb, let's say, lamb products in large, cooled ships around the world. These ships are packed with lamb.
The carbon footprint of that transportation from New Zealand to, let's say, London in the UK is tiny because of the mode of transportation, which is massive. It dilutes down the environmental footprint due to its sheer efficiencies. So the efficiencies around our food system is what largely drives emissions. Okay. It's not whether it's like local or not.
Yeah, and that's such an entirely different picture to what you read about and yeah, things like that. Frank, I'm mindful of your time. I do just have a couple more questions if it's okay. I have two more minutes. Great, so okay, so then let's finish up then with what is one thing that we can do at an individual level that will help reduce our own impact for climate change? Like if it's...
If it was Meatless Mondays, I'm sure that you would tell us, is there anything that we can do at that individual level that helps reduce impact? The number one you can do is vote. Because what is the main determining factor for society's contribution to climate change is what kind of policies exist. There are a couple dozen companies, most of them are fossil fuel companies, who are producing the vast majority of emissions worldwide.
It is those same companies that need to capture them again. They need to take out of the air what they have put into the air. And in order to get us there, we need to have the right policies. Okay, that is awesome. Frank, thank you so much for your time. Where can we go to find more information about what your center is doing and just the progress in this area? Yeah, you go to CLEAR, C-L-E-A-R, CLEAR.ucdavis.edu. And that's the web page of our...
web presence and there you find blogs and explainers and YouTube videos and so on. I hope that you find it useful. We are working with animal agriculture to improve animal agriculture, to improve its sustainability. Not everybody thinks we should. Some people think we shouldn't, but that's our job. That's what we do and that's what we do well. That is awesome.
good nutritious diets and trying to be mindful of the environment are really thankful for your work. So thanks so much Frank, I really appreciate your time this morning. And I appreciate you, thank you for having me and greetings to New Zealand. Bye bye.
Alrighty, hopefully you enjoyed that as much as I enjoyed chatting to Frank. Like, what a wealth of information. And it'll be really interesting to see over the next few years how some of his work sort of filters into that policy space, I think. And of course, as I said, you can find Frank both at the Clear Center at UC Davis or over on Twitter. And we've got links to these in the show notes. Next week on the podcast, I speak to Dr. Sam Sheppard.
all about blackcurrant supplement, exercise performance, but also his work in carbohydrate availability and exercise performance as well. So I think you guys will find that super interesting. Until then though, you can catch me over on Facebook at Micky Willardon Nutrition, over on Instagram and Twitter at Micky Willardon or head to my website mickywillardon.com where you
Keep an eye out for my birthday sale on my plans. So there you go. All right guys, you have a great week. See you soon.