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May 13, 2024

The steaks are high! Why companies are now tackling cow farts to counter global warming

This might sound like a Daily Mail snippet, but bear with us - cow farts are driving global warming. According to recent studies, livestock farming accounts for up to 11.1% of global greenhouse gas emissions. That’s right - flatulent Fresians (and other breeds) are as much to blame for global warming as the entirety of America. 

While carbon dioxide might be the most public face of global warming, methane is one of the most dangerous gases. It’s 80 times more effective at trapping atmospheric heat in the first 20 years after its release than CO2. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, cows globally pump 1.155 billion tons of methane annually. 

Holy cow! 

Considering there are more than a billion cows in the world, it’s fair to say that we’re a bovine-obsessed world. From milk and ice cream to burgers and leather, we’ve made cows part of our lifestyle. But governments, political bodies and corporations across the world are honing in on cow farts and burps and trying to make cows more sustainable. 

One company taking the bull by the horns is Marks and Spencer, which was founded in Leeds just below our office in 1884. 

They’ve invested £1m in reducing cows’ carbon footprint by changing the diets of the herds that provide their milk.

M&S are hoping that by tweaking the cows' feed supplement across their 40 suppliers, they’ll cut 11,000 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions. While these are relatively small gains - if successful it will reduce the carbon footprint of its main fresh milk range by 8.4% - it’s an important step in the right direction. It’s also excellent marketing material for the company, demonstrating its “commitment to innovation.” In some ways, it’s also being used as a testing ground for UK government policy, which could enshrine it into law as part of their net zero growth strategy. 

Sweden is one step closer, as their seaweed government policy has already shown ‘rapid’ results in recent years. Farmers have been trailing the use of red algae in the cows’ daily feed, with the bromoform in the algae reducing methane emissions by up to 90%. Alongside this, Swedish farmers have also found that adding 3-NOP to feed, a chemical approved by the EU since February 2022, can cut methane emissions by 30% in dairy cows and by 45% in meat cattle. 

Moosic to our ears

Other cowculated gas-cutting ideas include breeding programs for low-methane emitting cows, methane-capture technologies in cow housing and using methane as a renewable energy source (although we’re hoping cow fart catcher isn’t a job we see advertised on LinkedIn any time soon). 

Our reliance on cows is generally bad news for the planet - just look at Brazil. The country is the world’s largest beef exporter and home to over 200 million cows. Our burger addiction meant that more than 800 million trees were cut down in the years from 2017 to create short-lived grazing room. 

But with growing data and knowledge changing our attitudes, and companies like Marks and Spencer taking action to help tackle the world’s methane problem, there are some reasons to be cheerful. 

Fart free latte, anyone? 

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