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Question: Are cows and other livestock responsible for climate change?

cows

U.S. cattle farmers continue to make progress in improving sustainability and reducing greenhouse gas emissions, which contribute to climate change.

In the last 40 years, the U.S. cattle herd has shrunk by one-third, yet U.S. farmers are producing more beef today than they did in the 1970s, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

Cattle farmers are also reducing their environmental footprint. For example, total emissions of methane — a greenhouse gas — per unit of beef declined 10 percent from 1990 to 2016, shows an American Farm Bureau Federation analysis of data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the USDA.

In total, agriculture accounts for less than 10% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, reports the EPA. Of that number, livestock production contributes only 3.9% of greenhouse gas emissions.

In comparison, the use of fossil fuels is the number one human activity that generates greenhouse gases. Transportation, electric production and industry account for 80% of all greenhouse gas emissions in the United States, the EPA reports.

Even extreme dietary changes — such as switching to a vegan, all-plant diet — won’t have much impact on climate change.

Removing all livestock and poultry from the U.S. food system would only reduce global greenhouse gas emissions by 0.36 percent, according to 2018 research by the USDA and Virginia Tech.

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