As of 2000, there were 90,000 dairy farms in the US. The environmental impact of dairy farming is as real and considerable as other areas of agriculture:
- Pollution and emissions from farm equipment, the energy consumed by machines used to pasteurize and milk cows, and the fuel consumed by vehicles used for transportation
- 80% of agricultural greenhouse gasses comes from the processing and transportation of food
- The Wall Street Journal found the carbon footprint of 1 gallon on milk to be between 6.19 and 7.59 pounds of CO2, depending on how it was transported
- Antibiotics and hormones used on livestock
- Soil and water contamination
- Agriculture is the most common pollutant of rivers and streams, according to the EPA.
- Production of ammonia, nitrous oxide, methane, pathogens, and fine particulates, all of which are harmful to humans and the environment
- Methane comes from rumination by cows and the breakdown of manure, while nitrous oxide comes from manure and fertilizer
- 21% of methane comes from ruminants. This is extremely significant, especially when you compare this to 24% from landfills, and 26% from gas and petroleum systems
- Methane is 21 times more potent than C02 at trapping heat
There have been important advances in farming as organic and sustainable styles become more common (as opposed to intensive farming methods). Many farmers are making the transition to more environmentally friendly pieces of farming equipment. And many consumers, maybe yourself included, have hopped on the local foods movement, which cuts down food's carbon footprint by reducing how far it is has been transported from farm to store (check out www.sustainabledairyfarming.com for more information on these developments).
Although some farms are becoming greener and more humane, they still leave a considerable carbon footprint on our world. Today, consider eating a dairy alternative, like Tofutti cream cheese (made with tofu), soy milk, ice cream made from rice milk, or cheese made from soy and sesame. Visit Meatless Monday's dairy-free recipe section if you're looking for meal ideas!