The colour of the train
Commentary by Mike McMorris, LRIC CEO
I recently read an article questioning whether or not you can trust a “pro-beef” professor. Many reading this will know of the work and writing of Dr Frank Mitloehner at University of California Davis. His focus is on climate change and livestock production. Given the relatively low amount of public funding for agricultural research, and most likely just like researchers in other sectors, he does make use of industry funds in his research. So, the author asks, can you trust him to provide unbiased research results?
Pause for a moment and think about that statement, for in reality, all research probably has bias. That’s because it is done by people with different interests, and life experiences. I would challenge the author to point to any researcher that has zero bias… that does not mean you discredit their work and results.
In fact, the article really highlighted for me the spot that humanity finds itself in: we know that climate change is real. There is a train coming at us. And to date, much our our energy is being used to argue whether the train is black or red, steam or diesel powered, etc. That does not stop or slow the train!
Discussion of livestock production and climate change to date is fragmented with a pattern of point/counter point leading to little or no agreement on parameters to be used and so the discussion becomes circular. For instance:
- GHG emissions for beef production in Canada is far lower than the world average, yet some would argue that is countered by Canadians' higher than average beef consumption.
- If pork is produced through a corporation headquartered in country A, with production in country B, shipped to consumers in country C and D, who needs to take responsibility for the climate impact?
- Deforestation is a cause for concern. In North America we lived through that, but should we now be calculating the opportunity cost of not reforesting as part of the climate impact of grazing lands? Some suggest yes.
- Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas but it is involved in a carbon cycle. How, and even should, that cycling be accounted for?
We need to break the logjam and find the right metrics before we can agree on solutions.