Stats say you can’t blame global warming on cows

Cows are the cause of global warming. Say what?  Well, “they” say that cows produce too much methane each year.  But is that true?

Cattle — dairy and beef — have a specialized digestive system with four stomachs that allows them to utilize a diet primarily composed of plant material. As a ruminant, they regurgitate and  re-chew their food. Cattle are able to produce large amounts of needed protein and energy for their bodies to produce milk and meat.  And if you have ever spent any time around cows, you know that with this efficient digestive system comes methane production – aka burping, farting and manure.

There are almost 97 million cattle in the United states, and worldwide, about 1.5 billion. Statistically, they release between 70 to 120 kilograms of methane per year.  This is equivalent to 2,300 kg of carbon dioxide emissions each year. That does seem like a lot when there is pressure to keep greenhouse emissions as low as possible.

The first question that came to my mind is what percentage of the total greenhouse emissions is from cows? Let’s look at the statistics in the U.S. The sources I found stated that 8 percent of the U.S. greenhouse gas emissions come from agriculture.  Half of that is from all farm animals. Energy is the biggest contributor at 84 percent and includes electric power, transportation, industrial, residential and commercial.  Industrial process and waste each amounted to 4 percent of total emissions.

U.S. agriculture is equally important. At 8 percent total or less than 4 percent if you are considering just cows, agriculture is doing great! A very small percentage of the population provides the country with a reliable, healthy food supply.

On top of that, agriculture is important to the U.S. economy. Farms contribute about 1 percent to our nation’s gross domestic product, but when combined with food and related industries, it is $992 billion (5.5 percent). Every percentage point counts, but to say that cows are the cause of global warming – many involved in animal agriculture tend to think that this is just one more way to attack agriculture.

Some individuals and organizations would rather there be no animal agriculture at all, that acreage used to grow animal feed be converted to growing more fruits, vegetables and high-protein beans. The market tells us that 100 percent of consumers would not go for this kind of diet. Plus, I don’t believe it would sustain farm income to support farm families.

You can go online and estimate your contribution to emission using a carbon footprint calculator. I don’t know how accurate they are, but it will help you gain awareness. This calculator takes into consideration lots of the things you do, where you live and even what you eat. Then it computes what your impact is on the environment. Beware, some of these free calculators are sponsored by organizations that will gladly take your monetary contributions to ease your conscience.

Have you ever thought about what it would be like in this country if we did not have a strong agricultural industry? Or no animal agriculture?  As a nation, we would be forced to import our food from other countries – countries that have different and/or even very minimal regulations. Our system may have some challenges at times due to how much food has to be handled or processed before it gets to you, but you can walk into the store, purchase your food and feel safe.

Our nation’s farmers produce the food you want and need.

Submitted by Mary Smallsreed, a Trumbull County Farm Bureau member, who grew up on a family operated dairy farm in northeast Ohio.