July 12, 2016
Wikipedia defines "The illusory truth effect" (also known as the truth effect or the illusion-of-truth effect) as the tendency to believe information to be correct because we are exposed to it more often. It was first discovered in 1977 at Villanova University and Temple University. We see some misconceptions or exaggerations frequently in our daily lives, and thus have a tendency to believe them to be true because of our recurrent exposure.
I bring this up because, once again, I was hit in our newspaper with the erroneous statement about "meat and dairy being the number one contributor to GhG emissions and requiring a lot of water."
Leading US scientists and the EPA have calculated that in the US, 4.2 percent of all GHG emissions is due to the impacts of livestock production. This compares to 27 percent from the transportation sector as well as 31% from the energy sector which combined comprise 58 percent of all US GHG emissions vs. 4.2 percent for livestock.
I think this all started in 2006 when the FAO published a report called Livestock's Long Shadow, in which the authors mistakenly claimed that livestock contributed more to global GHG than transportation.
One mistake was that the research applied a full life-cycle impact to the livestock (meaning they added all the feed and resources used to grow and harvest the feed, etc. and for the Transportation, they did not. They only used the contributions of the fossil fuels burned in transportation, instead of the full life cycle which would include all aspects of the production and distribution. Apples and oranges.
In 2013, the FAO recanted that position in the Tackling Climate Change Through Livestock report. Their new methodology calculated Global livestock production's GHG contribution at 14.5 percent. Another problem with the FAO comparison of Livestock's vs. Transportation/Energy's relative contribution to GHG is that the number calculated was an International number and then they applied to individual regions of the world. Apples and Oranges again. This is inaccurate because in some developing countries, the transportation/energy sectors are small in relationship to livestock and a developed country like the US, Transportation/Energy's sector dwarfs Livestock's sector.
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Frank Mitloehner, Professor and Air Quality Specialist at UC Davis in his publication, Livestock's Contributions to Climate Change: Facts and Fiction, states: "Globally, the US livestock sector is the country with the relatively lowest carbon footprint per unit of livestock product produced (i.e. meat, milk, egg). The reason for this achievement largely lies in the production efficiencies of these commodities, whereby fewer animals are needed to produce a given quantity of animal protein food." To illustrate, in 1970 in the US, it took 140 million head of beef cattle to produce 24 million tons. By 2015, it only took 90 million cattle to produce the same 24 million tons. That is 36 percent less animals.
Mitloehner says, "The more productive we are, the relatively lower is our carbon footprint per unit of production." The latest FAO report even says that increased efficiency is a way to mitigate livestock's share of GHG. They say, "There is a direct link between GHG emission intensities and the efficiency with which producers use natural resources. Possible interventions to reduce emissions are, to a large extent, based on technologies and practices that improve production efficiency at animal and herd levels." And water is a part of constantly improving technologies, practices and production efficiencies. The largest and most comprehensive livestock life cycle assessment concluded that from 2005-2011, water usage was reduced by 3% and water quality improved by 10 percent.
The livestock sector is committed to continuous improvement in animal welfare, food safety, and sustainability.