Methane from cows acts as a greenhouse gas like CO2, speeding up global warming. It sounds silly that cows could cause pollution, yes, but in fact cows are ecologically destructive in a number of ways.(as delicious as an In-n-Out burger may be.) We simply need to find a balance with our consumption of them (like, no more than 1 In-n-Out burger a week?) But there’s some hope: Scientists in Canada came up with a diet that reduces cow methane emissions by 25%. Perhaps if we think creatively we can work within our ecological limitations.
According to a 2006 United Nations report, internationally the livestock sector accounts for 18 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions, which is more than the transportation sector. Methane is a greenhouse gas that has approximately 33 times the effect on the climate over 100 years as an equivalent amount of carbon dioxide. As methane is released into the atmosphere it competes for oxidants such as hydroxyl with sulfur dioxide. Therefore, more methane results in less sulfate, which has a reflective cooling effect, thus increasing the greenhouse effect.
There is an updated United Nations study that illustrates more accurate information regarding dairy cows and GHG.
A 2010 report by the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) titled “Greenhouse Gas Emissions from the Dairy Sector” estimates global milk production, processing and transportation contributes just 2.7% of green house gas (GHG) emissions. The report focuses on the entire dairy food chain from feed production and on-farm emissions, to emissions associated with milk processing, packaging and transportation of dairy products to retailers.
A 2009 study by Cornell University found over the past 60 years, U.S. dairy has reduced the carbon footprint of its products by 63 percent, thanks to improvements in animal genetics, feeding rations, animal health programs, cow comfort and overall farm management practices. In fact, more milk is produced today with only 9 million cows than with 26 million cows in 1944.
In an effort to continue our earth-friendly values, U.S. dairy has set an industry-wide goal of achieving a 25% reduction in total greenhouse gas emissions by 2020.
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