Close Send this page to a friend

Your link and message have been sent!

Close Send this page to a friend
* required
Oops! You forgot to fill in some required information.

Back to Symposium 2019

Food and Climate Change: The 2050 Challenge

Frank Mitloehner Frank Mitloehner, PhD

Professor and Air Quality Extension Specialist
Department of Animal Science
University of California, Davis

Global animal protein production is projected to double from its year 2000 levels by 2050 and the majority of this livestock production growth will occur in the developing world. Satisfying these upcoming animal protein demands will pose a challenge to the environment – hence the notion of the “2050 Challenge”. Much of the growth in the global livestock sector will occur in areas that are currently forested (i.e., parts of South America and South East Asia), which will create pressure to rely on deforestation to facilitate increased livestock production. It has been well established that significant reductions of carbon sequestering forests will have large effects on global climate change; therefore, avoiding deforestation is paramount.

By examining the historical trends in livestock production in the developed world, it becomes clear that there has been a marked improvement in efficiency, leading to reductions in numbers of animals required to produce a given amount product that satisfies the nutritional demands of society. For example, researchers at Cornell University* found that compared to 1944, the 2007 U.S. dairy industry reduced its greenhouse gas emissions per unit of milk by 63%. This reduction was achieved through improved nutrition, management, genetics, etc. born through scientific research that has led to dramatic improvements in milk production per cow. This type of intensification of livestock production found in the developed world provides large opportunities for climate change mitigation and can reduce deforestation to establish pastures, thus becoming a long-term solution to more sustainable livestock production. Today, researchers throughout the world focus on how advanced biotechnologies, improved genetics, nutrition, and comprehensive waste management already utilized in most parts of the developed world can be applied effectively worldwide.

While the extraordinary reduction in the U.S. dairy industry’s carbon footprint should be commended, attention should be given to the areas of opportunity that still exist, including transition cow management, lameness, and reproductive failure. Improving these and other areas on U.S. dairy farms should allow for even further reductions in carbon footprint per unit of milk.

Ultimately, we can not ignore the carbon footprint debate as this issue will not go away. However, the actual science behind many of the current claims has been incomplete or lacking, and it is in the best interest of producers and consumers to have environmental claims made on solid, peer-reviewed scientific data. What is needed is sustainable intensification in animal agriculture, coupled with technology transfers, to supply a growing demand for animal protein while providing environmental stewardship by using sustainable and modern production practices.

Frank M. Mitloehner, Professor and Cooperative Extension Specialist, University of California, Davis, Department of Animal Science, One Shields Avenue, Davis, CA 95616, USA; [email protected]


* Capper, J.L., R.A. Cady, and D.E. Bauman. 2009. The Environmental Impact of Dairy Production: 1944 Compared with 2007. J. Anim. Sci. 87:2160-2167

Watch the webcast

Missed the in-person event?

Watch this presentation's webcast

Other Presentation Summaries

  • Tim McAllister, PhD

    Principal Research Scientist
    Ruminant Nutrition and Microbiology
    Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada

  • Sergio Burgos, PhD

    Assistant Professor
    Animal Nutrition and Metabolism
    McGill University

  • Anne Mottet, PhD

    Livestock Development Officer
    Animal Production and Health Division
    Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO)

  • Educational Material Educational Material Educational Material
    Educational Material

    Need educational resources for your practice? Download copies online, or order print versions free of charge.

    Make a request
  • /newsletter

    Every month, articles of interest are featured in our NutriNews Bulletin. Sign up today to stay up to date on the latest scientific evidence and research.

    Sign up