Milk and dairy products, such as yogurt and cheese, are the most widely consumed foods in Japan, according to the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries' "Food Balance Sheets," domestic consumption in FY2021. They're considered indispensable staples that offer high nutritional value and bring richness to the diet. But they're not without controversy because their production has a negative impact on the environment.
Cattle burps and manure contain greenhouse gases (GHGs), such as methane (CH4) and dinitrogen monoxide (N2O), which are estimated to account for 3% of global GHG emissions. Among these, GHG emissions from dairy cattle account for the largest share, 44.5%, of the total livestock production. With cow emissions recognized as a major contributor to climate change, reducing their environmental impact is now a global challenge.
The Meiji Group has embarked on initiatives to reduce GHG emissions in the dairy industry and move toward sustainable dairy farming. However, before we could reduce emissions, we first had to measure them. Working together with dairy farmers, we began an initiative to calculate the carbon footprint of products (CFP).
Composition of GHG emissions in total livestock production
Composition of GHG emissions in milk (global)
Measuring greenhouse gas emissions at dairy farms
CFP is a way to quantitatively visualize environmental impact by calculating GHG emissions (CO2 equivalent) generated during the lifecycle of products from raw material procurement to production, distribution, consumption, and disposal. In the dairy industry, emissions come from a wide variety of sources, including cow burps and manure, as well as energy used in the barn. Therefore, conducting CFP calculations in cooperation with dairy farmers is complicated and has never been done based on actual data in Japan.
The Meiji Group undertook this challenging initiative to raise awareness of environmental issues throughout the Japanese dairy industry. (Hiromitsu Amanuma, Manager, Supply Chain Team, Sustainability Management Dept., Meiji Holdings Co., Ltd.)
Looking at the GHG emissions (CO2 equivalent) of the entire supply chain of the Meiji Group, approximately 85% are related to the procurement of raw milk. With an ambitious goal of reducing GHG emissions to virtually zero by 2050, we decided to take the lead in working with the Japanese dairy industry.
GHG emission scenarios in dairy farming operations
Developing the initiative, the first of its kind in Japan
The impact of the dairy industry on the global environment is well documented. However, farmers focused on the stable production of high quality milk haven't traditionally seen environmental issues as their problem to solve. Calculating CFP for milk would involve their cooperation. They would have to compile data in many areas such as electricity rates, feed consumption, and energy consumption such as diesel oil and electricity, a labor-intensive task.
Meiji Group offered to help. We sent Meiji Group employees to farms and had them work with the dairy farmers to compile a year's worth of data.
The CFP calculation* per bottle of milk, based on actual data for Meiji Organic Milk, which is made from raw milk from a designated farm in Tsubetsu-cho, Abashiri County, Hokkaido, was almost the same as the figure calculated overseas: 91% for upstream (sourcing), 6% for "midstream (production), and 3% for downstream (distribution to disposal). The numbers were clear; most of the CFP came from processes related to milk production.
GHG calculation results for dairy farming
Classification of CFP calculation for each process in the supply chain
We will continue our efforts toward the next step of reducing GHG emissions.
Development Team, Milk Procurement Dept., Meiji Co., Ltd.
This initiative involves some work that is burdensome for producers, such as asking them to provide data that is not usually collected for dairy operations. Therefore, we made sure to explain the significance of the CFP calculation in detail to encourage participation in the survey. As a result, we had good involvement from the dairy farmers and were able to calculate the CFP. Quantifying in numerical form the source of GHG emissions in dairy farm management is an important first step in helping Japanese dairy farmers and the dairy industry understand their impact on the environment. We would like to thank everyone for their cooperation in calculating the CFP of milk, and we intend to continue our efforts toward the next step of reducing emissions.
Taking concrete actions to reduce emissions
Identifying processes with high GHG emissions in the supply chain of our products, based not on overseas calculation results but on actual data from Japanese dairy farmers was a significant initiative in fostering environmental awareness among dairy farmers and the industry. The Meiji Group will consider CFP calculation for Meiji Oishii Gyunyu milk and other products in the future to further promote understanding of GHG emissions.
Making GHG emissions discernible is only the beginning of the reduction process. We will continue to raise awareness throughout the dairy industry, leading to concrete actions to reduce GHG emissions. (Amanuma)
To promote actual reduction, we will also work on a project to reduce GHG emissions from manure by modifying cattle feed.
The Meiji Group will continue to raise awareness throughout the dairy industry by taking concrete actions to reduce GHG emissions and make dairy farming in Japan more sustainable.