Farmers need to talk to consumers about climate change


The climate change and land use report released last week by the United Nations generated plenty of headlines and tremendous discussion.

But the media coverage of The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) really missed the mark, says Dr. Frank Mitloehner, University of California, Davis animal science professor and air quality extension specialist.

This week Mitloehner joined RealAg Radio host Shaun Haney to discuss the report and some of the key findings he believes were given short shrift. “Overall, the report was balanced and nuanced but the reporting on the report was not — the media reporting about the IPCC report was so distorting that the IPCC complained about it,” he told Haney.

One significant point that was under-reported was the fact that land use and land use changes are a big challenge with respect to climate adaptation. This is certainly the case for agriculture, which can suffer devastating impacts from drought and flooding.

Mitloehner notes that the report did mention that a change to less carbon-intensive diets would be advantageous, “but by no means did they indicate that we should become a society of vegetarians and vegans.”

In the interview Mitloehner and Haney discuss possible reasons for the misrepresentation — from lazy journalism to the growing weight of a merry band of loud activists and plant-based protein industry supporters.

Mitloehner also looks closely at the report to identify what agriculture needs to do in the future to be part of the climate change solution. He notes that the report explicitly says agriculture and forestry combined sequester, or take out, more greenhouse gas from the air than it puts in. This fact was totally ignored, he says. “All I heard was what a devastating role animal agriculture or agriculture overall has to play” in climate change. (Story continues after the interview)

Why is agriculture getting such a rough ride when it comes to climate change? Haney asks Mitloehner why farmers can’t seem to get credit for the measures they’ve adopted to contribute to the climate change cause — practices like direct seeding which reduce soil and wind erosion.

Mitloehner says he understands farmers’ frustration, but he says the industry has to do a better job of telling its story. He believes the evidence is there to support farmers, noting that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) clearly states that agriculture and forestry has reduced the amount of greenhouse gases in the U.S. by 172 million metric tonnes. “I tell you I have never heard anyone out there in the agriculture community raising those numbers, which are official EPA published data.”

Mitloehner feels too many farmers don’t recognize climate change and that’s a big mistake. “Farmers need to know what their impacts are and share with the public that they are making commitments to further reduce.” In the U.S., he says, beef, dairy, pork, poultry and other industries now know how much GHG they emit. Many of these industries have pledged further reductions — above and beyond the commitments of other sectors.

Haney wonders why the beef industry tends to bear the brunt of the agricultural climate change backlash? Mitloehner says beef production critics tend to rely on global statistics when pointing darts at the industry. That’s because North American beef production is much more efficient and better able to mount a scientific defence. He says the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association “has taken good first steps in explaining the sustainability story,” but there are also many other interests — from animal activists to the plant-based protein industry — working to shape the story.

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