PoW: Cow Farts and (Slightly More) Sustainable Meat | Vol. 4 / No. 16.3

Beware of Bovines? | Image: via Twitter: @Qt3

In which our very own Prudence of Wyoming talks environmental protection and the dangers of flatulence.


Cows are killing us. OK, ok, that’s a bit hyperbolic, but yeah, they’re sure not helping us out any. Cows kill us far more than sharks do, attack even more of us (even if they can’t outright kill us all the time), and the farts… man, oh man the farts. And the burps.

Via Wikipedia: Flatulence is often blamed as a significant source of greenhouse gases, owing to the erroneous belief that the methane released by livestock is in the flatus.[49] While livestock account for around 20% of global methane emissions,[50] 90–95% of that is released by exhaling or burping.[51]


So, science is working on a fix: we (mostly Americans, though Kuwait makes a strong case for porking out too) are not likely to totally give up meat anytime,1 let alone any time soon, so finding ways to lighten the (gas) load. After all, agriculture accounts for more greenhouse gas emissions per year than transportation (20-24% based on study, vs ~14%).

Two recent studies have focused on what cows eat and how it changes what they give off. One focuses on starting with higher quality pastures (CLEAN EATING, YO!)2 and the other focuses on adding seaweed as a supplement to improve digestion, regardless of pasture standards. But there’s a huge difference in emissions from cattle in different parts of the world. The worse the pasture, the slower they grow, the less milk they produce, and the more greenhouse gases they give off.

Producing a pound of beef in East Africa probably causes a hundred times more global warming than the same product from a feedlot in the United States.

Improving the pastures is currently the focus in the tropics, where beef is currently produced far less efficiently than in the US. The hope is to apply the “better pastures solution” to more regions as more data is collected and analyzed, improving outcomes globally. If we humans manage to make raising cattle just as efficient elsewhere, we can reduced the need for excessive transportation, furthering the overall reduction in resources needed to get that delicious steak from farmers to tables.

Seaweed boasts a 70% reduction at 2% of food eaten. Not a chump change amount there.

Unfortunately, seaweed isn’t a quick fix for our atmospheric methane overdose. We just don’t make enough. Scientists calculate that it would take some 6,000 hectares (about 15,000 acres) of seaweed farms to supply a mere 10 percent of Australia’s 29 million cattle; to supply America’s 92 million would take over thirty times more. While seaweed farming is a rapidly growing global industry, it’s not yet up to such herculean demands.

So, ya know, invest in seaweed farms, much growth is expected.




1. I’ll give up meat when all my teeth are gone. Until then, if animals were not intended to be eaten, they wouldn’t taste so damn good with ketchup

2. It’s BS, but whatevs.

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Prudence Wyoming is an irregular contributor to This Week In Tomorrow.


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