The problem Mitloehner highlighted is that the FAO performed what’s called a full “lifecycle analysis” for the livestock industry. In other words, it added up emissions from things like fertilizer production and land-use change in addition to those from cow burps and manure. It did not do the same for the transportation industry, however, tabulating the emissions from fossil-fuel combustion, but not from automobile manufacturing or road construction, for instance.As Branard notes, Mitloehner and the media are making much too much of this problem. If the comparison is misleading, it doesn't follow that we should stop worrying about how meat contributes to climate change. (He also says that reporting on Mitloehner ought to be more transparent about funding he receives from the beef industry.)
Looking back on how I read the statistic, did I really misunderstand it? Perhaps not, because I saw it for the first time in an article by Mark Bittman. He juxtaposed it with other statistics:
A study last year by the National Institute of Livestock and Grassland Science in Japan estimated that 2.2 pounds of beef is responsible for the equivalent amount of carbon dioxide emitted by the average European car every 155 miles, and burns enough energy to light a 100-watt bulb for nearly 20 days.What's being compared in that passage is generating 2.2 pounds of beef (which does take fertilizer, land, burps, and manure) and driving a car for 155 miles (not manufacturing it). I think I read the FAO statistic the same way. Generating meat produces greenhouse emissions comparable to driving planes, trains, and automobiles. But yes, people who read the "Livestock's Long Shadow" statistic as a lifecycle-to-lifecycle comparison would have gotten the wrong idea.
Over here, Don Le Pan wonders why environmentalists don't promote veganism. But if your concern is just the environment, why would you? Wouldn't this be like telling people to buy bicycles instead of just encouraging them to buy smaller cars? To be green, you'll want to eat leass meat, but also make distinctions between different animal products, as the chart (from this article) makes clear. Of course, climate change isn't the only "green" issue. But just concentrating on that, it makes a big difference whether you eat chicken or beef.