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American Sheep Industry Association discusses mitigating livestock greenhouse gases

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

In a recent American Sheep Industry Association (ASI) podcast from October, Dr. Frank Mitloehner, CLEAR Center director at the University of California-Davis (UC Davis), provided an update on current research regarding animal agriculture and its effects on greenhouse gases (GHG).

Mitloehner received a Master of Science in animal science and agricultural engineering from the University of Leipzig-Germany and a doctoral degree in animal science from Texas Tech University before going to UC Davis in 2002 to fill its first-ever position focusing on the relationship between livestock and air quality.

Mitloehner is an air quality specialist who conducts research on the impacts of livestock on the climate and has used extensive research data to inform the public and agriculture sectors on how to manage GHG.

The Clear Center

The CLEAR Center, led by Mitloehner, is based in the Department of Animal Science in the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences at UC Davis. 

Mitloehner explains, “The CLEAR Center studies issues related to sustainability of global agriculture, including air, water, climate, animal welfare, food safety, workforce and financial viability.”

The CLEAR Center leverages research to assist the livestock industry in operating more efficiently in order to meet the demands of a growing population while lessening its impact on the environment.

“Research topics at the center include measuring and mitigating GHGs, volatile organic compounds, ammonia, hydrogen sulfide and particulate matter and studying the effects on human and animal health,” Mitloehner states. 

“My goal is to help the animal agriculture sector become more sustainable. I work closely with those in the food supply chain and collaborate with various organizations who have worked at the CLEAR Center to mitigate GHG emissions from livestock,” he adds. 

Livestock research

In 2006, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) claimed livestock produce more GHG than transportation, but according to Mitloehner, this claim is wrong – they used different methodologies when looking at the impact of livestock on climate versus those of transportation.

Since then, the FAO has stated the original methodology was wrong and has since gone back and used a single methodology to calculate GHGs.

“But, the horse had left the barn, and all of those critics of animal agriculture glued on to this. The damage has been done,” he says. “So now, many corporations are using the climate impact angle to either promote their own products or disparage the use of animal-sourced foods.”

“GHG is composed of three gases – carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O),” he adds. “I do not view methane as a liability. I view it as an opportunity.”

Mitloehner continues, “Biogenic carbon from livestock versus fossil carbon from fossil fuel use are very different with respect to how they contribute to actual warming because people are exaggerating the impact of livestock. In the U.S., all beef production contributes to about three percent of all GHGs and all dairy production to about two percent.”

In contrast, Mitloehner notes the fossil fuel sector contributes nearly 80 percent of all GHGs. 

“I view the campaign against animal agriculture as a smokescreen by those who are just mega-producers of pollution,” he says. “While most people view CH4 as a problem, it can actually be part of the solution because methane is really energy.”

Livestock solutions

“On the enteric side, there are several approaches,” Mitloehner states. “One of them is feeding additives. Adding additives can either change the microbial composition in the rumen away from microbes that form CH4 to those that don’t or feed additives can also potentially reduce the actual enzymatic process of methane formation.”

He continues, “Another approach is breeding, there are low CH4 and high CH4 producing cows, and through CH4 breeding, we can select cattle which produce low CH4.”

According to a 10-year research study in New Zealand, researchers have discovered selective breeding of sheep is an option for decreasing CH4 emissions.

Through selection, CH4 production can be lowered per unit of feed intake and feed conversion can be improved – sheep eat less per unit of weight gain and therefore produce less CH4.

Melissa Anderson is the editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to

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