Knowledge for better food systems

Meat and dairy production and consumption in Sweden and emissions

In September 2009, the Swedish Institute for Food and Biotechnology (SIK) produced two reports, one on the GHG emissions arising from the Swedish production and the other on emissions arising from the consumption of meat, milk and eggs between 1990 and 2005.
In September 2009, the Swedish Institute for Food and Biotechnology (SIK) produced two reports, one on the GHG emissions arising from the Swedish production and the other on emissions arising from the consumption of meat, milk and eggs between 1990 and 2005. The studies show the different findings you get if you take a production oriented approach to calculating emissions as compared with a consumption oriented approach. The studies find that the total GHG emissions from Swedish animal production decreased by 14 % between 1990 and 2005, mainly due to improved efficiency and reduced production volumes. On the other hand, Swedish consumption of animal products increased, and more animal products were imported to compensate for the declining national animal production. As a result, per capita GHG emissions from the consumption of animal products increased by 16 % between 1990 and 2005. The consumption report makes this striking observation: "To stabilise the atmospheric GHG levels at 400 ppm CO2e, a yearly global average emission of 2 tonnes CO2e per capita in 2050 is suggested; hence, current per capita emission from animal food only, consumed in Sweden, is more than half of the required emission target from all consumption in 2050 [my italics]." It concludes that reductions in production-related emissions are not sufficient - consumption patterns also need to be addressed. The relationship between the beef and dairy sectors is highlighted in the report, and is interesting. The report highlights the fact that if dairy consumption goes down but meat consumption stays the same or goes up, then you need more dedicated beef, or suckler cattle to compensate for the reduction in dairy calf 'byproducts' that get fattened up for beef. Cederberg (one of the report authors) makes an argument for 'breeding for multifunctionality' elsewhere: see Cederberg C and Stadig M. (2003). System Expansion and Allocation in Life Cycle Assessment of Milk and Beef Production Int J LCA 8 (6) 350 - 356 (2003). It would be interesting to look at what might happen if you bring soil carbon and pastures into the discussion. This report doesn't look at livestock grazing from a carbon sequestration point of view - but might it not be the case that dairy-offshoot beef cattle are more likely to be reared on lands which are periodically ploughed and resown (no net sequestration) whereas suckler beef are more likely to be reared on unploughed uplands.
 

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