Blog: Dave LeggettCO2 can of worms

Dave Leggett | 11 July 2007

Next time you take a drive in the country, just take a look at the animals in the fields. They're pretty single-minded - usually head down and chomping on grass. Yes, benign creatures that - unknowingly, we assume - make a major contribution to human happiness and wellbeing by ending up being killed, chopped into bits and put on a plate for human consumption. And their hides are pretty useful, too.  

But there's a sting in the tail. In their near constant flatulence (they live on a diet of curried baked beans and beer) the poor creatures produce vast quantities of methane gas. The greenhouse gas implications are considerable. Yes, folks - windy livestock account for more greenhouse gases in the environment than all forms of transportation combined! Just think of those benign creatures peppering the fields as little Hummers, doing their bit for climate change.

Scientists are now apparently giving serious consideration to altering cattle diets so that they suffer from less flatulence (no more beans for you, Daisy). How much thought do you give to your food? If you're like me, not a great deal - beyond thinking about how good, or not, it is for your body (and I don't exactly sweat it on that one).

But the economics of food production is quite a subject - especially when you consider things like cereal production to feed livestock, the energy consumed in making fertilisers, the opportunity cost of the land use and so on.

I gather durum wheat - a key pasta ingredient - production in Canada is increasingly being allocated to ethanol and the price of pasta in Italy is about to rise as a consequence. There have already been tortilla riots in Mexico and England this spring resembled one giant rape field.

Enjoy your steak and salad while you can.

It's another of those cans of worms that the CO2 subject periodically throws up. And if it highlights something big that deserves to be uncovered then that's got to be a good thing. I expect the food debate will be raging soon (though I suspect more to do with the best use of available land and resources for the best result globally, than with CO2 per se).

But I expect PR people in the auto industry everywhere will be pleased to see media stories on flatulent cows taking some of the environmental heat off of automobiles.

I can just see the pub discussions breaking out across the land...

'Haven't you heard? It was on telly last night. Cars aren't the problem, mate. Nah, there's been a big rethink. It's yer farting cows that are doing the damage, big time. One cow with unstoppable flatulence does more environmental damage in one day than a transatlantic Boeing 747 does in a year.

'And you see that Range Rover out there, with its 4.2-litre V8? If I use that every day for a week, driving it round the M25 for ten hours each day, that's about equal to one cow belch.'

More on agriculture, if you're interested


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