March 20, 2018
China's milk demand sparks more land use, higher greenhouse gas emissions
The amount of land required worldwide for the production of fodder crops for the dairy industry would rise by 30% in 2050, leading to a 35% spike in greenhouse gas emissions and close to 50% increase in nitrogen emissions.
This finding is based on a study by a research team from China, the Netherlands, New Zealand, the UK and Austria, which calculated the impact of China's rising milk consumption on global trade in milk and fodder, land use and greenhouse gas emissions. It was led by Lin Ma of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.
One of the scenarios examined concerns whether 75% of additionally required milk was produced in China, using current production methods, while 25% was imported from Europe, New Zealand and the US.
The team discovered that Europe, New Zealand and the US would have to increase significantly the amount of land for fodder if all additionally required milk is produced outside China.
For instance, almost 40% more land in Europe's dairy sector would be set aside for producing animal feed - a development which can only happen when big changes are implemented on land use in the region.
Consequentially, the emissions of greenhouse gases and nitrogen would rise by a few dozen percent, which curtail Europe's efforts to fulfill international environmental agreements.
Further exacerbating an environmental crisis is the trade of animal fodder, especially soy and corn, which is largely blamed for deforestation and declining biodiversity in the world.
"If you want to limit the effects of increased dairy production on the environment and land use as much as possible, you will need to increase the efficiency of milk production in China to the level of world leaders like the Netherlands," said Gerald Velthof of Wageningen Environmental Research, who was also part of the research team.
"This would reduce emissions of greenhouse gases by some 10%, and the amount of land required by 30%. For example, real improvements could be made in grassland management and the management of manure in China."
Vlethof, however, cautioned that, despite better efficiency in Chinese dairy production, global emissions of greenhouse gases and nitrogen produced by the sector "will still rise by 20-25%."
"The predicted increase in China's demand for milk will have major global consequences, whatever the scenario," he added.
- New Food