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date: 25 June 2017

Dairy, Science, Society, and the Environment

This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Environmental Science. Please check back later for the full article.

Dairy has intertwined with human society since the beginning of civilization. It evolves from the arts in ancient societies to science in the modern world. Its roles in nutrition and health are underscored by the continuous increase in global consumption. Milk production increased by almost 50%, just in the past quarter century alone. Population growth, income rise, nutritional awareness, and science and technology advancement have contributed to a continuous trend of increased milk production and consumption globally. With a four-fold increase in milk production per cow since 1940’s, the contemporary dairy industry produces more milk with fewer cows, and consumes less feed and water per liter of milk produced. The dairy sector is more diversified, with people from a wider geographical distribution consuming milk from cattle, as well as from species such as buffalo, goat, sheep, and camel. The dairy industry continues to experience structural changes that impact society, economy, and environment. Organic dairy emerged in the 1990’s, as consumers increasingly viewed it as an appropriate way of both farming and rural living. Animal welfare, environmental preservation, product safety, and health benefits are important considerations for consuming and producing organic dairy products. Over the past decades, large dairy operations have come across many environmental issues in relationship to elevated greenhouse gas emissions. Dairy cattle are second only to beef cattle as the largest livestock contributors to methane emission. Disparity in greenhouse gas emissions per dairy animal among geographical regions can be attributed to production efficiency. Although a number of scientific advancements have been implicated in the inhibition of methanogenesis, improvements in production efficiency through feeding, nutrition, genetic selection, and management remain promising in the mitigation of greenhouse gas emission from dairy animals.