Friday, September 4, 2009

Cow Farts and Other Myths

Debunking the meat/climate change myth
If those people concerned about rising levels of greenhouse gasses, instead of condemning meat eating, were condemning the enormous output of greenhouse gasses due to fossil fuel and fertilizer use by a greedy and biologically irresponsible agriculture, I would cheer that as a truthful statement even if they weren’t perceptive enough to continue on and mention that the only “new” carbon, the carbon that is responsible for rising CO2 levels in the atmosphere, is not biogenic from livestock but rather anthropogenic from our releasing the carbon in long term storage (coal, oil, natural gas.) Targeting livestock as a smoke screen in the climate change controversy is a very mistaken path to take since it results in hiding our inability to deal with the real causes. When people are fooled into ignorantly condemning the straw man of meat eating, who I suspect has been set up for them by the fossil fuel industry, I am appalled by how easily human beings allow themselves to be deluded by their corporate masters.

An Inconvenient Cow
In his fascinating recent book, 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus, Charles Mann paints a picture of wild ruminant populations before the arrival of Europeans: “North America at the time of Columbus was home to sixty million bison, thirty to forty million pronghorns, ten million elk, ten million mule deer, and as many as two million mountain sheep.” That’s just North America. We have not even considered the enormous herds pounding the African plains, nearly all of which are methaneproducing ruminants including wildebeest, Cape buffalo, giraffes, gazelles, antelope, kudu—you get the point. Even today, these animals number in the hundreds of millions; their numbers were many fold greater in the past. How can it be that we have been able to overlook this perfectly natural scenario and move forward with casting the blame on the world’s 1.5 billion domesticated cattle?

Nature’s herds are by no means light on the land. Reports from the travels of Lewis and Clark attest to the fact that the herds of bison left not one scrap of fodder for their horses to eat, and the land was coated with a sheet of manure so thick, it turned vast expanses of prairie black. This manure, with the help of sage grouse, prairie chickens and dung beetles was then quickly recycled into some of the richest soil on the planet; this is the same manure that the U.N. blames for poisoning our atmosphere with nitrous-oxide.

Splendor From the Grass
...the way cows are fed today causes them to suffer from a range of health problems. Dairy cows are fed grains and soybeans, which have high caloric and nitrogen values. Sometimes rations even include bakery waste, such as out-of-date donuts, candy and pastries. These foodstuffs upset the delicately balanced ecosystem in the cow’s rumen. As rumen microbes digest the foods eaten by the cow, they produce waste products which inhibit the growth of other microbes. One of these metabolic wastes, acetic acid (vinegar), is used as an energy source by cattle. But the waste from microbial digestion of starches—like corn and bakery waste—is lactic acid, which has no value to ruminant. It also lowers the pH in the rumen, causing acidosis. The colostrum (first milk) of such acidic cows has very few antibodies because they are immunosuppressed.

Another serious consequence of grain feeding is that cows on grain absorb lower amounts of fat-soluble vitamins A, D and E, even when these vitamins are added to feed; and, consequently, less of these vital nutrients show up in the milk...

Of all the cull cows taken to slaughter today, only about 5 percent have livers that can be salvaged. Damage to the liver is attributed to high levels of protein in soy-based feed.


  1. I'm sorry Keith but while I want to agree with you, here in Australia there are 24 million cattle and 100 million sheep and they produce methane gas (CH4). While I gather that some pastures may reduce methane gas production and the use of progressive carbon farming grazing does too, I fail to see where this issue can be side stepped by referencing biological history.

    I think we can do a lot to reduce enteric fermentation and a lot of what can be donr is probably there for the researching of wild habitat -- but for the time being the figures suggest a major agricultural problem that could be offset, by only to a degree (how much?) by various forms of carbon farming and on farm protocols. But in New Zealand enteric fermentation is the primary source of climate change gases.

    You are focusing on the chronic problem of grain feeding of livestock in the USA which was a major issue for Frances Moore Lappe way back when but which is nonetheless almost indigenous to the US.In Australia maybe no more than 10% of beef cattle are housed in feed lots and then only for tertiary fattening.Livetock are fed mainly on grass. In terms of population density we have the fly problem everywhere because we have the dung problem where livestock are grazed which is everywhere on pasture of varying quality.

    The point is in terms of methane --- whether Australia should shift more to meat sources like kangaroo(which is already on the national menu & which, not being cloved footed, is light on our poor soils) or, in the US, to low emitters , as Ted Turner argues (since he owns 20% of the national herd), to bison?

    All farts and burps ain't the same.

  2. Rather nice place you've got here. Thanx for it. I like such themes and anything that is connected to them. I definitely want to read a bit more soon.