California, June 5: Consumption of milk has been quite evident in many countries of the world. Have you ever imagines consumption of milk by a country can be a bad news for the planet? No, right! A study in Global Change Biology has revealed that China’s milk consumption will increase threefold by 2050. China’s ever-growing population poses a huge environmental threat to its demand for dairy milk products.
A major shift that could increase global greenhouse gas emissions from cows by more than one-third, but it is inevitable if the country takes steps to improve its dairy sector, its environmental impacts could be significantly reigned in.
In an effort to determine how the globe would be impacted by this growing demand, a team of researchers from the Chinese Academy of Sciences assessed the factors and consequences of this growth. Sticking with a business-as-usual approach wherein China’s extra milk requirements are met by both domestic production and international imports would be the most detrimental to the planet.
Under this scenario, greenhouse gas emissions from livestock shoot up by 35%, and global land-use increases by 32%, from 84 to 111 million hectares. This also comes with a 77% surge in water use and a 48% increase in nitrogen pollution partly due to the increased need to farm resource-guzzling crops like soybeans and maize as feed. However, it is seen that if China decides to choose to produce all the extra milk it needs domestically. But, existing pressures on the land would then force the country to import tons of international feed, to meet the huge appetite of its growing livestock numbers. That simply shifts the environmental burden of increased water, land, and nitrogen pollution to other countries, the researchers note.
China’s milk demand will have detrimental impacts on the planet, the researchers say. But, there are ways to limit the extent of that impact. If China becomes a hub of sustainable dairy innovation and aligns its domestic milk production with the highest global sustainability standards, it could reduce expected greenhouse gas emissions from milk production by 12% and land-use by 30%.
China is now the world’s leading importer of milk, as well as its fourth-largest producer despite its long history of dairy-free diets. In order to estimate the impact of the rising milk consumption by the country, the researchers applied a method to project the milk consumption. The method maps out the interdependencies between environmental resources to measure the impact of a product. This revealed the varied and interconnected environmental impacts of milk consumption under different possible scenarios.
Even under China’s best dairy production scenario, global greenhouse gas emissions from cows would rise by 19%. So, short of putting off the planet and its growing population from consuming milk, a practical balancing act will ultimately be what’s needed to meet our future dairy needs, sustainably.