MADISON — Dr. Frank Mitloehner, a professor and air quality extension specialist in the Department of Animal Science at the University of California-Davis, isn’t afraid to speak up, particularly on Twitter where he writes under the handle @GHGGuru. He sees 2.5 million people visiting his Twitter account each month, which provides accurate information on air emissions and busts myths distributed by those looking to attack animal agriculture.
“Being in California is like being at Ground Zero,” he said. “There are urban centers of people who think they’re food experts, but most of these people have never set foot on a farm and don’t know anything about agriculture.
“That’s the world I live in.”
Speaking to attendees of his session at the Professional Dairy Producers of Wisconsin Business Conference in mid-March, Mitloehner explained how the time is now for farmers and agriculture advocates to speak up and drown out the voices of those most likely to support food bans, restrictions and propositions against agriculture — and that a good place to do that is on Twitter.
Mitloehner has successfully challenged organizations before, including the EAT-Lancet Commission, a group of more than 30 mostly vegan and vegetarian experts that are pushing plant-based diets for a healthier planet and person. His comments also caught the attention of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, with Mitloehner noticing a major flaw in a 2006 report that stated 18 percent of all greenhouse gases produced on the planet come from livestock. The report was corrected upon the discovery of the falsity, something he finds quite honorable, and which led to his appointment on a special livestock project for the FAO.
More recently, he took on U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who told students that to help combat climate change they could quit using disposable razors and skip eating meat and dairy for a meal, in addition to prior comments she made about “cow farts” adding to global warming. A tweet at Ocasio-Cortez by Mitloehner was followed up by an interview from her office, and the retraction of any comments made by her in reference to “cow farts” from her Twitter account.
“Be active. Retweet other stuff and you will have an impact,” Mitloehner said. “The days of sitting back and watching the show are over.”
By the numbers, 9 percent of the U.S.’s greenhouse gas emissions can be attributed to agriculture. Of that 9 percent, about 4 percent is from animal agriculture in particular, while the remaining 5 percent is from crops. This compares to 30 percent of the U.S.’s greenhouse gas emissions attributed to electricity; 26 percent attributed to transportation; 21 percent attributed to industry; 7 percent attributed to commercial uses; and 6 percent to residential uses.
“Our special friends like to compare transportation to agriculture,” he said. “However, three-fourths of all greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S are associated with the use of fossil fuels if you add them all together.
“And you need to know these numbers, not just specialists like myself.”
In total, only 12 percent of all global greenhouse gas emissions come from the U.S., but Mitloehner argued that the 1 percent of consumers most likely to support food bans, restrictions and propositions against agriculture have told others that the U.S. is producing an incredible amount of greenhouse gases. And that simply isn’t true.
In today’s world, the dairy cow produces more milk with less methane and waste. Improved health, genetics and fertility have allowed the agriculture industry to gain efficiencies, decreasing the number of animals needed to produce the same amount or more.
The carbon footprint of a glass of milk is also two-thirds smaller today than it was 70 years ago, but it’s facts like this that Mitloehner’s “special friends,” like People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and The Humane Society of the United States, choose to ignore.
“The time is right for us to really step up and become active in their discussions,” he said. “This is the reality.”
Those interested in joining the discussion can follow Mitloehner on Twitter via @GHGGuru.