Methane and Cows


The herd waiting for dinner.

I don’t know whether to laugh, cry or scream. Some scientists looking at ways to reduce global warming have decided to target the burps and farts of cattle. You heard me. The plan is to breed cows that produce fewer burps and farts, because those are a major source of methane, which contributes to global warming.
Methane, for the uninitiated, is a gas produced as a result of the cow’s digestive processes. Gut microbes inherited from the parents regulate the amount of methane a cow produces. The scientists say they could selectively breed cows that produce less methane. They say they know of “no downside to lowering methane emissions in this way.”

Ruminants ruminating

I say they don’t know enough to be making those kinds of statements. The gut microbiome has been in the news quite a bit lately because people are finally beginning to understand what an important role it plays in our immune system and overall health. Eating low fiber, highly processed foods and high amounts of sugar wreaks havoc with the human gut microbiome. I suspect that the way most commercial cattle are fed does the same to cows. Consider that commercial cattle feed contains such goodies as fish meal – not the sort of thing a cow in the wild would have on the dinner table. Antibiotics are another source of gut microbiome damage.

Time for a sunbath and a nap!

Like that of the human, a cow’s microbiome has developed over millions of years. From the moment a calf begins to nurse, its rumen is being correctly populated by mom’s milk and the bacteria in its environment. The bacteria interact with one another and the balance among the various strains is critical for health. Like a house of cards, mess with one of those strains and others will be affected. It’s extremely short-sighted to tinker with such a delicate mechanism. Look at the growth of antibiotic-resistant strains of gut bacteria we are dealing with because of the overuse of antibiotics in animal feed and medicine. Not to mentions that the real elephant in the room when considering climate change isn’t beef burps and farts – it’s energy production from fossil fuels.
I have a feeling this is a BAD idea.

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