Of Cows and Greenhouse Gases

This is how cows should be raised; on green grass.

This is how cows should be raised; on green grass.

Warning: rant ahead!
I am so fed up with the pronouncements about how cows pollute the environment and cause greenhouse gases, and so, dear reader, the experts say you should eat little or no beef. Here’s a little excerpt from a recent article on the subject (this one happens to come from the Environmental Working Group, but it doesn’t matter, as they all sing the same song):

“Most US. livestock are fattened on fishmeal, corn, soybean meal and other grains. Grain production, in particular, requires significant quantities of fertilizer, fuel, pesticides, water and land. It takes 149 million acres of cropland, 76 million kilos (167 million lbs) of pesticides and 7.7 billion kilos (17 billion lbs) of nitrogen fertilizer to grow this feed. Fertilizer applied to soil generates nitrous oxide (N20), which has 300 times the warming effect of carbon dioxide. Irrigation pumps, tractors and other farm equipment also release carbon dioxide, but in relatively small amounts. Pesticides and fertilizers often end up in runoff that pollutes rivers, groundwater and oceans. Feed crops are heavily subsidized by taxpayers through the federal Farm Bill, to the tune of $45 billion over the past 10 years. Fertilizer and pesticide production requires a significant amount of energy, but our model found that together they account for just 12 percent of the emissions from growing feed. The biggest impact is from the nitrous oxide emissions resulting from fertilizer application.
Animal waste releases nitrous dioxide and methane and pollutes our water and air, especially when it is concentrated. In 2007, US. livestock in confined feeding operations generated about 500 million tons of manure a year, three times the amount of human waste produced by the entire US. population (EPA 2007). Manure is the fastest growing major source of methane, up 60 percent from 1990 to 2008 (EPA 2010) . While manure is a valuable nutrient for plants, it can leach pollutants – including nitrogen, phosphorus, antibiotics and metals – into groundwater when storage facilities leak or too much is spread on farm fields. More than 34,000 miles of rivers and 216,000 acres of lakes and reservoirs in the US. have been degraded by waste from confined feeding operations (EPA 2009). Decomposing waste releases dust, smog odors and toxic gases, including ammonia and hydrogen sulfide, which degrade air quality and can cause itching, dizziness and discomfort to workers and nearby residents.”
The answer to this problem in many minds, is that we should eat less beef, pork, lamb and poultry. To which I say, “Nuts!”

New daddy from the rent-a-bull man.

New daddy from the rent-a-bull man.

Look, here are some key points about about the current system:

  • Cattle, pigs, sheep and chickens are confined in concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs).
  • They are fed grain, which cows and sheep are not really designed to eat, being ruminants. While pigs and chickens can eat grain, they’re omnivores and do much better if grain is only part of their diet.
  • The reason the manure creates problems is because it is concentrated because the animals are confined. If these critters were on pasture, the manure would be enriching the soil.
  • Please note, even EWG says the biggest problem in the greenhouse gas issue with current farming methods is the nitrous oxide emissions from commercial fertilizer application.

Now, think about this: we have about 32.6 million beef cows in the US. Approximately 26.2 million cattle are fed in 87,160 CAFOs each year. Before the bison were nearly wiped out, estimates on their numbers ranged from 25 to 70 million. The bison were not in CAFOs; they ranged free, eating grass and dropping their manure, which regenerated the soil. Not to mention the deer,elk and antelope running around doing the same thing.

Gee, do you think the problem could be the way we’re raising the beef?

Picture from this article: http://limn.it/how-shit-happens-or-how-audit-systems-and-sewer-states-lead-to-tainted-beef/



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4 Responses to Of Cows and Greenhouse Gases

  1. Karen says:

    Bee, I’ve always enjoyed the comments you post on Matron’s site. Your straight shooting and witty sense of humor literally crack me up. Didn’t know you had a blog! “We Believe” is excellent. My sentiments exactly. Thank you for that.
    Currently reading “Gaining Ground” by Forrest Pritchard. The author details his journey to becoming a grass-farmer when it wasn’t trendy and, in the end, how revolutionizing it was for him and his family. Good read.

    • Bee says:

      Karen, thank you for your kind words. Although I do most of the writing, my sister-in-law Ell is the resident blog techie and takes much better pictures than I do (that’s her work in the site banner). As far as my sense of humor, I suspect it was conditioned long ago in the mists of time and has a lot to do with the number of times I’ve fallen on my head! Glad to have you reading us.

  2. Nita says:

    I have been on the fence about posting about this. Drives me crazy! A neighbor of ours is upset about our cows releasing methane. He also is so worried about the logging operation between our two places that he and his friend fly over in the friend’s private plane thrice weekly to check out the loggers. His step daughter is so distraught about the cattle and meat eating people she had to flee to the Hamptons to relax and take in a few workshops about henna tattooing and yoga while she is there. Hmmm, me thinks flying all over the states and the nearby logging operation is doing more polluting than our cows walking around eating perennial plants and leaving a little fertilizer as they go… Where is people’s good sense?

    • Bee says:

      Oh, my word, Nita, what a story! Post, post! People like your neighbors don’t have a clue, and the only way they’re going to get one is if people like us keep educating (preferably in words of one syllable with simple explanations even a child could understand) every chance we get. There’s so much bad press out there about cows, when what people should be talking about is the system, not the animals; people run the system… So post, post!

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