Climate Change and Cow Burps

Did you know that in December 2009, the US Department of Agriculture and the Innovation Center for US Dairy Announced that they would be working with the dairy industry to reduce its greenhouse gases by 25% by 2020? Didn't make your radar screen? Okay, but let's look at why it is important and what some of the companies you may be buying products from are doing to support this initiative. Everyone needs to do their part to reduce their carbon footprint; every industry, business sector, organization and individual needs to be part of the solution. According to the Innovation Center the dairy sector is looking at everything from how dairy products are transported to what feed crops the cows get. If the dairy industry can reach their 2020 target, it would be the equivalent of taking 1.25 million cars off US roads every year; not an insignificant number!

In the US, the dairy industry accounts for 2% of total greenhouse gases and the agricultural sector in total for about 7%. In language your 10 year old will understand, a serious concern that is being addressed at both the government and industry level, is cow "burps;" but also, lets say it out loud, cow "farts." What does this have to do with climate change, you may be thinking? The emissions produced by "enteric fermentation," a fancy way to describe part of the digestive process in animals like cows, is primarily "methane" gas emissions. Methane gas is a significant greenhouse gas which contributes to climate change. There are two issues regarding methane production in agriculture in the US of concern here:

1. many of our large factory farms actually have methane "lakes" for manure storage, and
2. the lack of consideration for which type of feed crops animals get, which can have a huge impact on "burps!"

We are going to focus on the "burps," which according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization account for 90% of enteric fermentation in cows.

Last year, Vermont based Stonyfield Farms launched a program with its dairy farmers to change the feed that their cows are given, "simultaneously reducing greenhouse gas emissions and improving milk's nutritional content in a way that may help reduce cardiovascular disease and obesity," this according to Gary Hirshberg, President of Stoneyfield Farms. The program introduces a diet of alfalfa, flax and grasses to the cows, all high in natural omega-3 sources; resulting in …. less cow burps! In the first 6 months of the program cow belches went down between 13 and 18%. A by-product to the farmers has also been healthier cows and lower vet bills!

Climate change 101 fact: methane gas is 23 times more potent a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide!

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