Dairy

During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act ~ George Orwell – English novelist, essayist, journalist, and critic

The various dairy industries have a number of environmental concerns as follows:

  • The cows, goats and sheep produce large amounts of methane in their digestion process which is a highly potent greenhouse gas. This is many times more damaging than carbon dioxide (21 times more)1,2,3.
  • About 30% of feed for dairy cattle comes from crops. Growing crops to feed animals has inherent inefficiencies similar to those discussed for meat.  The land used for growing these crops could be used to grow food much more efficiently, for direct human consumption. Also, often grain grown for animals is trucked long distances to keep up the supply.  Read more about the environmental pitfalls of dairy here.
  • Cows produce a lot of waste in the form of manure. Each dairy cow produces about 60 kg of wet manure per day, which is equivalent to the waste produced by 20–40 people. With the current total herd of 1.6 million cows, the Australian dairy industry produces far more manure than the entire Australian human population.  Read more about soil and water health in dairy farms here.
  • Dairy is a huge user of fresh water and land. In 2004-2005 the dairy industry was responsible for more than 12% of all the water used in Australia. The production of 1 litre of milk requires 800 litres of fresh water.  Water is used to irrigate pasture, to clean out dairy and milking sheds and to provide drinking water to the cows.
  • Dairy farming is the third biggest user of irrigated water in Australian agriculture, after livestock/grains and cotton growing.  A 2004–05 audit found that Australian dairy farms used around 2.3 million megalitres of water (12% of national water consumption).  To learn more about the water use in dairy farms click here.
  • Feeding dairy cows requires a lot of fertile land to graze on and/or indirectly, land dedicated to the production of their feed. This production of cattle feed requires deforestation and general habitat destruction which is the leading cause of massive species extinction here in Australia and overseas.  Read more about deforestation and land clearing from farms here.
  • In the life cycle studies, cheese was found to be one of the most greenhouse gas emission intense products. To learn more click here.
  • Dairy operations account for 25-30% of fertiliser use in Australia. Production and transport of fertilizer has its own footprint. Synthetic fertilizers are a significant source of greenhouse gas emissions. The fertilizer industry’s green house gas emissions are approximately 300 million tonnes CO2 equivalents per year. This includes direct nitrous oxide emissions, (a gas 310 x more potent than carbon dioxide). Read more on the environmental footprint of fertilizers here.

Links & Resources

vegan resources

One Green Planet: Facts on animal farming and the environment

Australian Dairy facts sustainable table

Meateaters guide: Life cycle greenhouse gas emissions of food.


References

[1] United Nations Environment Program. 2010. Assessing the environmental impacts of consumption and production. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.unep.org/resourcepanel/Portals/24102/PDFs/PriorityProductsAndMaterials_Report.pdf.

[2] World Watch Institute. 2009. Livestock and Climate Change. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.worldwatch.org/files/pdf/Livestock%20and%20Climate%20Change.pdf.

[3] Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations. 2006. Livestock’s long shadow. [ONLINE]Available at: http://www.fao.org/docrep/010/a0701e/a0701e00.HTM.