Methane and Meat

In a warming world, cows are going to produce less meat and milk and more methane. That is the results found in a study from the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC) and the Senckenberg Biodiversity and Climate Research Centre in Frankfurt.

“… plants growing in warmer conditions are tougher and have lower nutritional value to grazing livestock, potentially inhibiting milk and meat yields and raising the amount of methane released by the animals. Higher amounts of methane are produced when plants are tougher to digest – an effect of a warmer environment. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas, around 25 times better at trapping heat than carbon dioxide. More than 95% of the methane produced by cows comes from their breath through eructation (belching) as they “chew the cud”.  Making Cows More Environmentally Friendly

There is a widespread misconception that a warming world will improve plant yields too. It’s not true. Both yields and nutrition decline.

Less meat however, is actually a good thing overall, but that’s assuming humans would want to eat less meat, which they don’t. Just the opposite is true, meat consumption continues to rise taking up more and more of the world’s grain production.

Methane production is generally expected to increase all around the world, with hotspots identified in North America, Central and Eastern Europe, and Asia, where the effects of climate change may be the most severe. Many of these regions are where livestock farming is growing most rapidly. For example, meat production has increased annually by around 3.4% across Asia, compared with a more modest 1% increase across Europe.

Global meat production has increased rapidly in recent years to meet demand, from 71 million tonnes in 1961 to 318 million tonnes in 2014, a 78% increase in 53 years (FAOSTAT, 2016). Grazing lands have expanded to support this production, particularly across Asia and South America, and now cover 35 million km2; 30% of the Earth’s ice-free surface.

Cows are producing 15% of the global methane contribution, which is a very large figure (76 – 92 Tg per year. 1 Tg = 1 million metric tonnes).

These are ridiculous figures, but then again, so is the incredible sprawl of human civilization (destruction) across the Earth. And still we want more.


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