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Three Reasons to Applaud Dairy on Earth Day

By Mark O'Keefe
 
Thursday is Earth Day, which means anti-dairy activists will be out in force, making misleading claims on social media, devoid of appropriate context, demonizing cows and the dairy industry as bad for the planet.
 
The truth is that dairy has made significant progress and will continue to provide sustainable solutions in the future.
 
The U.S. dairy industry is in the global vanguard with a “Net Zero Initiative” committed to three environmental stewardship goals by 2050: 
  1. Become carbon neutral or better.
  2. Optimize water use while maximizing recycling.
  3. Improve water quality by optimizing utilization of manure and nutrients.
“U.S. Dairy is making a promise for a better future,” says U.S. Dairy Export Council President and CEO Krysta Harden. “By expanding, operationalizing and measuring sustainability practices across farming and dairy companies, we’re harnessing the power of a strong, connected and diverse sector to nourish people, the planet and local communities.
 
“We’re putting a stake in the ground to say, ‘U.S. Dairy will give more than it takes.’” 
 
New report documents role of global dairy 
 
The Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture, in collaboration with the U.S. Dairy Export Council and the Global Dairy Platform, hosted a virtual webinar in August about dairy and its role in sustainable food systems. It was attended by more than 500 participants across the Western Hemisphere.
 
On April 16, the seminar's findings were published in a 36-page document, “Dairy’s Role in a Responsible and Sustainable Food System.” Download the report here. Read the news release here.
 
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The report “shared the latest information and innovations to help improve global knowledge and understanding of the important role dairy plays in the economic, social, cultural, environmental and nutritional development of the Americas and the world.”
 
From this report and other sources, here are three reasons to give a round of applause to dairy on Earth Day 2021:
 
1. Dairy creates economic sustainability. 
 
The International Dairy Foods Association’s Dairy Delivers? economic impact tool shows U.S. dairy is a coast-to-coast jobs machine. Dairy in this country supports more than 3 million jobs, generates $64 billion in tax revenue and contributes 3% of the country's gross domestic product (GDP), according to the IDFA study.
 
Globally, extensive research by the United Nations has determined that dairy farming reduces poverty.
 
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Among the more than 900 million making less than $1 per day, most live in rural areas and depend on agriculture and livestock.
 
The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, working with the Global Dairy Platform, researched the difference dairy farming makes in the lives of the world’s poorest people.
 
Their report, “Dairy Development’s Impact on Poverty Reduction,” concluded that: “Dairying not only contributes a regular source of food and income, but it puts farmers in a better position to feed their families, send their children to school, provide for their family’s health, and invest in their future.”
 
The report said, "Dairy has the power to provide a major pathway out of poverty for individuals, families, and communities by making the necessities of life— food, water, shelter and clothing – accessible and affordable."
 
Dairy farming gives hundreds of millions of people economic opportunities.
 
2. Dairy has a history of environmental progress.
 
In 2019, FAO studied climate change and the dairy industry. The result was a report entitled "Climate Change and the Global Dairy Cattle Sector" that examined changes in emissions from the dairy sector between 2005-2015.
 
During those 10 years, the emission intensity per liter of product produced (GHG per kilogram of milk) declined 11% due to production efficiency improvements in every dairy region of the world.
 
In the United States, dairy was the first agricultural sector to commission a life cycle assessment on fluid milk, which showed that dairy accounts for 2% of total GHG emissions in the U.S.
 
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Due to innovative practices in cow health, improved feed and genetics, and modern management practices, the environmental impact of producing a gallon of U.S. milk in 2017 shrunk significantly from 2007, requiring 30% less water, 21% less land and a 19% smaller carbon footprint.
 
The U.S. dairy industry recognizes that this type of progress is just a beginning, not an end. A whole lot of work remains. But the industry also wants it known that sustainability is nothing new to dairy farmers.
 
3. Dairy is embracing best practices to become carbon neutral.
 
Globally, dairy is embracing innovative sustainability practices and implementing continuous improvement programs. The new report says the sector is working to understand its impact on GHG emissions and implementing strategies that result in measurable improvement.
 
In the U.S., dairy's greenhouse gas footprint is less than 2% of the nation's total. The industry wants to do better. That's why it created The Net Zero Initiative to reach carbon neutrality by 2050.
 
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The initiative collaborates with dairy organizations creating a voluntary pathway for U.S. dairy’s sustainability journey. Many of the practices and technologies needed to reach the industry’s goals largely exist but require further research and development and overall greater accessibility across farms of all sizes and geographies.
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