|Duane A. Lienemann|
Nebraska Extension Educator
It was an interesting meeting in that we learned the latest on beef cattle enteric methane production, why it is produced and the impact of its production on the beef industry and what it may mean for beef producers. We had the opportunity to listen to experts from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and other universities across North America, in addition to producer representatives who spoke on methane emissions from beef cattle. There were topics such as separating the facts from fiction for livestock and climate change and producer views on climate issues for the beef industry and production of enteric methane. We were exposed to thoughts on enteric methane production, beef industry sustainability, the relation between methane production and performance, and other air quality issues. Of course there are a lot of different views on the subject of global climate change and what is responsible for it and that came out during the course of this seminar.
Why is this meeting important? Let me give you some background and you will likely see why it was necessary to confront the issue of Global Climate Change in general and the part that beef methane plays in the equation. I might add that the same time of the meeting, Denmark came out with a proposal that calls for tax on red meat – “because cattle flatulence is causing climate change and people are 'ethically obliged' to change their eating habits”. It has recommended an initial tax on beef, then expanding it to all red meats in future and possibly onto all foods depending on the impact production has on the environment. The proposal will be put forward for consideration by the government after the council voted in favor of the measure by an overwhelming majority. This looks like it will be a forgone conclusion that a GHG tax will levied on meat.
The researchers from the think tank said proceeds from a tax on meat could be used to subsidize healthier alternatives that are less damaging to the environment, such as fruit, vegetables and tofu. Don’t think for a minute that other countries won’t follow suit… all hinged on the Paris Agreement that the USA also signed. You really think we won’t have a push for that right here in the USA? How long do you think it will be before all of our red meat is taxed as well? There is a reason all of this is happening. I think we need a little background before we dive in. It all starts interestingly enough with the United Nations, or at the very least a flawed study put out via its Food and Agriculture Organization or commonly call FAO.
Several years ago the United Nations floated this study that cattle alone contributed at least 18% of all greenhouse gasses and were largely responsible for global warming. The name of the report that was released in 2006 still resonates in my mind – “Livestock's Long Shadow: Environmental Issues and Options”. For those that are so inclined you can find it at: http://www.fao.org/docrep/010/a0701e/a0701e00.HTM.
The problem is that the United Nationals Food and Agriculture Organization had an agenda and their report was largely criticized and ripe with errors. After several years they did state that their study was flawed. Trouble is that it was years later and the original material had a solid foothold, it was all over the internet, Vegan blogs and in people’s minds, and the damage to the livestock industry was already done. The attack on the livestock industry was immediate and brutal and we still feel the results of that “scientific study”. Here is an example.
Leonardo DeCaprio directed a movie that still rankles me. It was entitled “Cowspiracy” and is still frequenting the internet and especially damaging in that it is readily available on Netflix. It dovetailed nicely into Al Gore’s “Inconvenient Truth” and unfortunately furthered the thrust of unreasonable regulations that were proposed or levied on agriculture and continues even today. They are still pushing towards a carbon tax and even eliminating areas all across the nation that is used for grazing. You can see what I mean by going to: http://www.cowspiracy.com, You can read the “facts” that still are used daily on anti-agriculture blogs, internet sites and of course by extreme environmentalists who are focused on destroying “Factory Farms”.
The problem is that most of this is just plain wrong and has been scientifically debunked. But it still is out there.
The United States government has also indicated that it is very concerned with greenhouse gas emissions and is trying to fulfill President Obama’s campaign promise to cut greenhouse gases 80% by 2050. It is clear that the government is and will address farming in its efforts to reduce greenhouse emissions. Those that are watching regulations and legislation know where we are headed. You most likely are very aware of the Clean Air and Water Act. You have likely been informed about the proposed dust and particulate law and of course the so called “cow fart” fiasco several years ago, and we are still fighting the Waters of the United States (WOTUS). All of this compliments of this study and the determination of the EPA.
The sad part is that about 10 years too late, the same U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) came out with a report with data that shows that all of agriculture contributes only 7 percent of America’s greenhouse gas emissions while livestock production accounts for only 3 percent of greenhouse gas emissions. By contrast, transportation accounts for 26 percent. But who still gets the blame? Beef of course. While you hear about greenhouse gasses, and carbon dioxide, the primary concern is methane, a potent greenhouse gas. That is where cattle come into the mix - as ruminants they belch up methane!
The preceding information comes from the research and personal observations of the writer, which may or may not reflect the views of UNL or Nebraska Extension. For more further information on these or other topics contact D. A. Lienemann, Nebraska Extension Educator for Webster County in Red Cloud, (402) 746-3417 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org or on the web at: http://extension.unl.edu/statewide/webster