All production of feed and food affect more or less the local environment at the production site and the climate as a whole. However since 1990 the greenhouse gas emissions from the global food production has not increase more than 1% (1). The reason for that is an increased production efficiency which results in a decreased emission per kilo produced commodity.
Production systems for feed and food affects the environment and the climate but are at the same time important because the systems provide humans with essential nutrients. Therefore there is a need to develop and transform the feed and food production systems so that systems can be a part of the solution to reduce climate change
Milk production- Sweden, global and sustainability
Milk production is a central part of the green sector in Sweden. Besides providing nutritional commodities such as milk and beef from a high proportion of rather simple feed (grass), the milk industry has for a long time worked together with researchers to reduce climate impact trough breeding, feed, and production efficiency. Between 1990 and 2017 in Sweden the total amount of greenhouse gas emissions from cows' digestion has been reduced by 29%.
The emission reduction is a result of fewer number cows, better feeding strategy, and increased production efficiency. Globally, the greenhouse gas emission per kilo milk produced has decreased by almost 11% during the period 2005-2015 and the main reason for the decrease is an increased production efficiency.Most potential, globally, for further emission reduction can be found in countries where cows produce less than 2000 kilo ECM (energy corrected milk) per cow and year.
However, the effect of increased milk yield on greenhouse gas emission per kg milk diminish with greater yield. A yield greater than 5000 kg ECM per cow and year has little to none affect on greenhouse gas emission measured per kilo milk produced. In Sweden cows produce on average 10 175 kilo ECM per cow and year, where the breed SKB has the lowest yield 5799 kilo ECM per cow and year. Compared to many other countries Swedish milk production has less impact on the climate.
Previous studies regarding the environmental and climate impact of milk production has shown that it is greater than crop production. However, milk produced by grazing cattle has a positive effect on biodiversity.
Together with climate impact, biodiversity has been found by scientist to be the two most important factors for planetary sustainability and that the two complement each other. To only focus on climate results in a negative effect on biodiversity and vice versa. To include both in a life-cycle analysis would therefore provide a more accurate picture of the climate and environmental impact of food production systems. Additionally, a more accurate picture would also provide a better opportunity to develop and reach a more sustainable production system. As an example, fields used for pasture can act as a carbon sink which can reduce climate impact of milk production by 5-18%.
According to FAO there are three areas where actions taken could lead to a reduction of the total emission from milk production and increased production efficiency (less emission per kilo ECM. The three areas are
- increased production efficiency
- increased carbon sink oppertunities
- and an improved connection between milk production and circular bio-economy.
Swedish milk production has already a high production efficiency and a bylaw demand for cows on pasture compared to many other countries. There is still however room for improvement and knowledge gaps which can lead to additional reduction and understanding environmental and climate impact of Swedish milk production.
Food in the Anthropocene: The EAT-Lancet Commission healthy diets from sustainable food systems
Utsläpp av växthusgaser från jordbruk efter växthusgas, delsektor och år, Statistik databasen www.scb.se
Methane production in dairy cows- Impact of feed on rumen microbiota, Rebecka Danielsson, SLU 2016.
FAO and GDP. 2018. Climate change and the global dairy cattle sector – The role of the dairy sector in a low-carbon future
Miljöpåverkan från mjölk och havredryck, 2015 Elin Röös et al.
Reducing food’s environmental impacts through producers and consumers, Poore et al., Science 360, 987-992 (2018).
Kött och mjölk från djur uppfödda på bete och restprodukter- ger hållbarkost? Elin Röös et al. 2015.
The importance of including soil carbon changes, ecotoxicity and biodiversity impacts in environmental life cycle assessments of organic and conventional milk in Western Europe- Knudsen et al. Journal of Cleaner Production 215, 433-443 (2019)