Magazine article Geographical

Is It True That Cattle Contribute to Global Warming?

Magazine article Geographical

Is It True That Cattle Contribute to Global Warming?

Article excerpt

ANSWER: When it comes to global warming, most attention is given to the rise in levels of carbon dioxide, which acts like a blanket, trapping heat in the atmosphere. But C[O.sub.2] isn't the only gas with this property. Along with nitrous oxide--better known as laughing gas--methane is a very efficient greenhouse gas, trapping up to 25 times more heat than C[O.sub.2]. Bacterial decomposition of organic matter in landfill sites and rice paddies is a major source of methane, as are cows' stomachs.

According to one piece of research, the average cow produces more than 500 litres of methane a day, mostly from belching. The cause of all that methane is down to the ability of ruminants to eat pretty low-grade food, such as the straw from rice plants. They need to ferment that food to get any energy from it, and the main by-product is methane.

Feeding cows better food makes them produce less methane--and belch a lot less--but scientists are also looking at vaccinating the cows to make them a bit less windy or putting something extra in their feed. It turns out that kangaroos can survive on the same low-grade food as cows but produce very little methane. …

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