December 12, 2009

Cattle Farming Contributes To Brazil’s Greehouse Gases

Cattle farming is the leading cause of greenhouse gas emissions in Brazil, as it is responsible for four-fifths of the deforestation of the Amazon rainforest and three-fourths of the burning of forests and vegetation throughout the country, besides emitting most of the country's methane, an important greenhouse gas produced in the digestive system of cattle.

João Meirelles Filho, author of two books on Amazon deforestation, told AFP that Brazil's promise to cut polluting gas emissions is not believable because it is based solely on limiting deforestation, without touching the real cause which is extensive cattle farming.

According to this environmental expert - who heads the Peabirú Institute and is an advocate of sustainable and social development for the Amazon region - by failing to address this issue, Brazil is not bringing a policy proposal to the 15th Conference of Parties (COP-15) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Copenhagen, just unrealistic figures and targets.

The country has a total of nearly 200 million heads of cattle - one for every Brazilian - distributed throughout a fourth of the national territory, and occupying a surface area three times as large as the area covered by crops.

It estimates that between 2003 and 2008, the ranchers produced between 812 million and 1.1 billion tons of carbon gases a year, or 50 percent of the national total.

But it is not just a problem of the Amazon region, or even of Brazil. It's a global problem. According to estimates by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), livestock production occupies 40 percent of the world's agricultural lands, Meirelles said.

The more than 1.2 billion head of cattle that exist in the world consume more food than the world's entire population of 6.8 billion people, half of whom do not even include beef in their diet. A million people don't eat beef for religious reasons, while almost all the rest of the non-beef eaters are just too poor to afford it, he explained.

The increasing trend in beef consumption is unsustainable. Consumption is growing most notably in China, where it's still limited to six kg a year per person, far below the 36 kg consumed in Brazil and the more than 60 kg eaten in Argentina, Meirelles said.

In addition to being an inefficient protein producer, requiring eight kg of fodder for every kg of beef produced, cattle are an environmental and social predator. According to calculations by the association of large agriculture and cattle producers, there are 70 million hectares of degraded pasturelands in Brazil.

Historically, cattle farming was the way into the Mata Atlántica, the extensive coastal forest area in eastern Brazil that has already lost 93 percent of its native forests, and into other ecosystems, such as the Cerrado, Brazil's vast central savannah, half of which has been deforested. This depredation is repeated in the Amazon region, Meirelles warned.


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