Cow Burps and the Effect on Global Warming
Environmental Issues

Cow Burps and the Effect
on Global Warming

The effect of global warming on the Earth is a worldwide issue and major steps need to be taken by everyone to reduce and control global warming. The world’s climate has already been severely affected as a result of global warming, as polar ice caps melt, sea levels rise and extreme weather conditions become more frequent.  

Global warming is defined as the heating of the Earth’s surface over a long period, as defined by, and is the direct result of human activities, specifically the burning of fossil fuels, which create greenhouse gases and trap hot air within the Earth’s atmosphere.

Cows and Global Warming 

Methane is one of the five greenhouse gases, and one of the major causes of global warming. Methane comes from both natural and human-made sources. These include methane release from natural bio-matter breakdown, rice farming, fossil fuel production, transport, and livestock.

The farming of cows is a direct cause of methane gas release from livestock, however, it is cow burps that cause more methane to be released, than the release from the intestines.

Despite carbon dioxide being a large greenhouse gas, methane is more powerful at trapping heat in the atmosphere and diffuses quicker into the air. 

Cows have multiple stomachs so that they can digest plant matter, and during the digestion of plants and grass, according to the European Commission, an adult cow can emit up to 500 liters of methane gas into the environment per day.

Research on cow burping

Although cows are not solely responsible for the production of methane, the farming of cattle is at a considerable scale, and bovine livestock, and as defined by the European Commission, cows are responsible for 3.7% of greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming. 

However, not all cows release the same level of methane into the atmosphere when they burp. Research has shown that different cows produce different amounts of methane, depending on how much of a certain type of bacteria is present in a cow’s digestive tract. 

Professor John Wallace coordinated an EU-funded project titled, RuminOmics, which looked at how gut bacteria developed in a cow and how diet impacts the gut microbiomes. The project aimed to identify which breed of cow, and which diet produced less methane during digestion, and therefore released less methane when the cow burped. 

The results showed that it is possible to breed animals for low emissions of methane, however, the breeding process would take a considerable amount of time, while climate change needs more immediate results. Therefore a quicker solution would be a probiotic for young cattle, which will change their gut microbiome and therefore cut methane emissions, as described by Professor John Wallace, in the New Scientist

What can we do as a consumer?

As the effects of cows on global warming are directly caused by humans, and the over-farming of cattle, how can we as consumers help to reduce global warming? 

To produce beef for consumption, the amount of land needed to raise cattle is 28 times larger than the amount needed to raise poultry or pork, this also includes more water needed. 

Therefore as a consumer, you can greatly reduce the way your diet impacts the environment by choosing to consume less beef and dairy produce. 

Global warming is a human-made issue and the effects are already being witnessed throughout the world, with extreme weather conditions such as heatwaves, floods, and droughts, which have been the direct result of climate change. 

Additional research and efforts are underway to tackle and reduce the methane emissions expelled from cow burps. Research into the feed given to cows has suggested that methane release can be controlled through diet additions, and researchers have experimented by adding seaweed, cashew nut shells, and coffee-bean pomace to cow feed. 

As cattle stock is slowly replaced with a lower methane-producing breed of cow, as identified by the RuminOmics study, we can help reduce the effects of global warming by changing our diets. By reducing the frequency with which we consume cow-related produce, such as beef, milk, and cheese, we can indirectly help reduce the causes of global warming. 

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