Cleaner Cow Burps May Save the Planet
By Chris Mooney
The Washington Post
First, let’s get one thing straight. Despite what you may have heard, it is cow burps, not cow flatulence, that are the real climate change problem.
Here’s how it works: Cows digest their food in four-part stomachs, including a “rumen,” which is a site that allows for fermentation — a process that gives off a lot of carbon dioxide and methane gas, as microorganisms aid in the process of digestion. That gas has to get out of the cow’s body somehow — hence, burps. “Approximately 132 to 264 gallons of ruminal gas produced by fermentation are belched each day,” notes the Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences.
And because we have so many cows — where would human civilization be without them? — this really adds up. Indeed, according to the EPA, so-called “enteric fermentation” in cows and other ruminant animals, like sheep and goats, contributed 26 percent of the country’s total emissions of methane, a hard-hitting greenhouse gas with much greater short-term warming consequences than carbon dioxide does (though the latter packs a far greater long-term punch).
Globally, meanwhile, methane emissions from livestock are an even bigger problem. Overall, the livestock supply chain emits 44 percent of the globe’s human-caused methane, according to the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization — and a large slice of that comes from cattle’s methane burps. So anything you could do to cut down on cow belching would, literally, help save the planet.