Monday, March 23, 2015

WInds of Change, Part lll

For the past two Meatless Mondays, we've been looking at the problem of methane emissions from cattle, and why those emissions--farts, yes, but also burps and gases rising from their dung--have only become a problem in the last 50 years or so. We learned that when a cow eats what its insides were designed to eat--a variety of wild grasses--the emissions that result are harmless. But when you feed cows things they weren't designed by Nature to digest, well, it's apparently about as smart as feeding a baby chili. And you know how well THAT works out:

So, is there a solution to feeding cows the wrong things? The Union of Concerned Scientists thinks so. In 2011, they published a report on the environmental impacts of cattle methane, and offered these solutions for reducing methane emissions:
One way to reduce methane emissions is to increase the nutritional quality and digestibility of forage—the plants cattle eat while on pasture. [There are] several strategies to improve forage quality: increase the percentage of legumes in forage mixtures, avoid the use of low-quality, mature pasture crops for grazing, and breed better pasture species to improve nutritional quality.
(Despite the above link, may I recommend this summary, which I've discovered too late to keep me from actually having to read their report! My Ph.D. in Climate Studies and Ruminants, please!)

Interestingly, the report does not categorically condemn the nasty filthy godawful "finishing" technique of CAFOs--confined animal feeding operations--which account for the vast majority of beef farming in this country, if not the world:
The grain-based feeds used in CAFOs produce more rapid weight gain than pasture forage, with fewer calories lost to methane emissions. However, high-quality forage—especially when grown on high-quality land—can minimize the climate emissions advantage of grain. And pasture finishing has other climate advantages, including the ability to sequester more carbon than grain crops.
What they're saying is, CAFO cattle gain weight faster than pasture-feeders, therefore they will be slaughtered sooner, shorter life-spans equaling less time cows have to produce green-house gases. The rest of that paragraph is talking about utilizing manure in a more bio-friendly way, i.e., allowing it to be absorbed by soil in a field vs. piling up in a cattle pen.

In summary: to reduce the methane emissions of cows, cows should be allowed to live as their cousins the buffalo did, in open pastures, eating a variety of forage, pooping on the ground, as Nature intended.

A lot to think about at the next barbecue, huh? Anyway, the good news is, there are viable solutions to this problem, through sound science and agricultural education. For our part, as consumers, we should definitely eat less beef--Meatless Monday is a solid start in that direction. But we should also continue to encourage, through our buying habits, as well as other means, the most planet-friendly ways beef can be raised. Because a healthy, happy cow makes a better product for you and me, as well:
Beef from grass-fed animals has lower levels of unhealthy fats and higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids, which are better for cardiovascular health. Grass-fed beef also has lower levels of dietary cholesterol and offers more vitamins A and E as well as antioxidants. The study found that meat from animals raised entirely on grass also had about twice the levels of conjugated linoleic acid, or CLA, isomers, which may have cancer fighting properties and lower the risk of diabetes and other health problems.
That concludes our TMI "The Winds of Change" series! Tune in next Meatless Monday for a new topic. Thanks for reading!


grass-fed beef

No comments:

Post a Comment