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Grown Here at Home: VT Researchers look at impact of dairy cows on greenhouse gas emissions

Published: Feb. 2, 2021 at 7:04 AM EST
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BLACKSBURG, Va. (WDBJ) - Would a world without dairy cows be better for our environment? That’s the question a team of researchers at Virginia Tech worked to answer.

“Our findings suggest it changes the national U.S. gas emissions less than two percent. It’s going to take a lot more than changing your diet to actually make an impact,” said Robin White, an associate professor and researcher at Virginia Tech.

Finding a solution to reduce our carbon footprint isn’t exactly cut and dried.

“When people think about changing their dietary choices they don’t think about the impact that might have on an industry. So if I stop consuming dairy products, what’s going to happen to the cows?” Robin asked.

Robin says the two extremes would be to retire the cows to live free-range on a piece of land or simply kill off the population. Two scenarios she says would have both environmental and social ramifications. She points out that cattle in general provide nutrients and a food source that meets the needs of a growing population.

“If you just look at the breakdown of what different sectors in the U.S. contribute to our national carbon footprint, there’s pretty even distribution among sectors. So instead of pointing fingers to an individual industry, I think it’s the responsibility of each individual industry to find ways to reduce emissions,” Robin explained.

As far as the cows go:

“They do contribute to greenhouse gas emissions. We do have to be really careful about how we manage them to preserve water quality and to minimize water use. We need to be careful about the type of land that we raise them on to make sure that it’s responsible stewardship,” Robin said.

Robin says new technology has been and is being developed to help reduce the agricultural footprint on greenhouse gas emissions.

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