The Consumer Education Project of Milk SA

Is dairy farming harmful to the environment?

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The total global greenhouse gas emissions from the livestock agricultural sector is less than 6% of the total emissions produced.1,2 Dairy cows (like beef cattle and other grazing animals) can use plant material not edible for humans and produce a nutrient-dense food, i.e. milk.

Plant material naturally releases methane gas when it is decomposing. When not used for animal feed, it has no benefit for human nutrition. The natural metabolic processes of the animal’s diet result in the emission of methane gas. It is released by the animal into the atmosphere, which forms part of the natural carbon cycle. In this cycle, methane is broken down into carbon dioxide, which is then captured by plants in the photosynthesis process. This forms an essential part of the natural cycle of carbon.

For more reading we suggest:

  1. Scholtz MM, Van Ryssen JBJ, Meissner HH, Laker MC. A South African perspective on livestock production in relation to greenhouse gases and water usage. S Afr J Anim Sci. 2013;43(3):247–254.  https://doi.org/10.4314/sajas.v43i3.2
  2. Scholtz MM, Neser FWC, Makgahlela ML. A balanced perspective on the importance of extensive ruminant production for human nutrition and livelihoods and its contribution to greenhouse gas emissions. S Afr J Sci. 2020;116(9/10), Art. #8192, 3 pages. https://doi.org/10.17159/sajs.2020/8192
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