The dairy sector, including milk production, processing and transportation, accounts for 4 per cent of the total human greenhouse gas emissions, according to analysis from the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).
The vast majority of emissions, 93 per cent, take place on the farm, which includes the production and transport of all inputs used, such as fertiliser, pesticides and feed for the dairy herd.
However, the total figure excludes emissions from land use, capital goods such as farm equipment and buildings and retail stage activities such as refrigeration and disposal of packaging.
The FAO estimated back in 2006 that the livestock sector as a whole contributed 18 per cent of global GHG emissions but this is the first of its sector specific reports. It will publish similar analysis on the pig, poultry and beef sectors over the next 12 months.
It's global emission figures for the dairy sector mask a huge variation in emissions per kg of milk: sub-Saharan Africa averages 7.5 kg CO2 per kg of milk at the farmgate - almost seven times as much as Western Europe and North America, where emissions are between 1 and 2 kg CO2 per kg of milk.
This is reflected by the fact that Western Europe, where the majority of the milk is produced in intensive factory-style production systems, is ranked third for its share of global emissions even though it is the largest producer of milk. South Asia, where emissions are around 4.5 kg CO2 per kg of milk, has the highest share of global emissions.
FAO chief livestock policy officer Henning Steinfeld has said the findings could be used to help countries reduce the GHG-impact of dairy production by switching to Western Europe/North American systems.
‘Developing countries have huge total emissions per unit of output and this could offer a strategy of mitigation for them. The more productive systems could bring the double benefit of lower emissions and more income,’ says FAO chief livestock policy officer Henning Steinfeld.
Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO)
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