Best Headline Today: Miliband muses on farm farts ban

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Miliband is David Miliband, the British government's environment secretary. Livestock, especially cows and sheep, let's just say, emit methane which has a global warming potential 21 times worse than carbon dioxide. The headline is from an article in Green Business News which did note that Miliband's concerns are unlikely to

"…result in a 'fart-tax' with civil servants chasing cows round with breathalyzer style methane measurers, [but] Miliband did argue that farmers should act to reduce methane emissions by feeding cattle different food, breeding them to live longer, altering the handling of manure and getting farms to generate 'biogas' or 'biofertiliser' from animal waste."

Is this a call for genetically modifying livestock to produce low-emission cows and sheep?

For more information see Green Business News article here .

Fun fact: Sheep flatulence is the greatest source of Kyoto Protocol signatory New Zealand's greenhouse gas emssions which is why the government is considering a plan to reduce those emissions.

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  1. I see no disclaimer. Am I to assume that you have paid off by,.. Big Fart?

  2. Disclaimer: Ronald Bailey owns stock in GlaxoSmithKline — manufacturers of Beano…

  3. “I see no disclaimer. Am I to assume that you have paid off by,.. Big Fart?”

    Come on, we all know Ron works for the gas industry.

  4. I for one welcome our new catalytic converter-equipped bovine overlords.

  5. I can imagine dairy cows with those things hooked to thier nipple and a tube sticking out of thier ass.

  6. Bovine Beano.
    Problem solved.

  7. Splice kangaroo genes into livestock. Kangaroos don’t emit methane.

  8. As livestock are a carbon-neutral source of methane, you can fix the problem by attaching little burners to the backsides of the animals.

    If you include a turbine and a wire with the burner, you can generate electricity.

    You can even call it wind power…

  9. OK, to get serious, the manner in which cattle are raised can dramatically reduce their emissions. Grass-fed cattle fart less than corn-fed cattle.

    Factory frams utilize corn-based feed because the density and intensity of their operations makes it impossible to provide sufficient grass to form the basis of their diet. These operations are also much worse polluters in other area, for the same reason. For example, the volume of manure produced by the number of cattle that can be supported by 10 acres of grassland can be easily composted into 10 acres of soil, while a high-density feed lot will produce much more manure than the land area it occupies can possibly incorporate through natural processes. So the manure ends up polluting nearby water bodies.

  10. I think we just need to make sure that all passenger bovines starting with the 2009 model year be fitted with catalytic converters.

  11. In the ‘lies, damned lies, and statistics’ department, am I correct in reading that the ’21 times’ figure means that a kilo of methane is 21 times ‘worse’ than a kilo of CO2, not that current levels of methane emission cause 21 times more damage than current levels of CO2 emission, right?

  12. ‘unlikely to

    “…result in a ‘fart-tax’ with civil servants chasing cows round with breathalyzer style methane measurers” ‘

    The new Ministry will be under (but not too closely under) Flattus Breakwind, Lord Foulbottom.

  13. Factory frams utilize corn-based feed because the density and intensity of their operations makes it impossible to provide sufficient grass to form the basis of their diet.

    This is indeed part of it. The other is that corn fed beef is more tender and fatty than grass fed beef of the same age, both of which are traits that studies show consumers prefer over the more pronounced taste and toughness of grass fed beef.

    These operations are also much worse polluters in other area, for the same reason. For example, the volume of manure produced by the number of cattle that can be supported by 10 acres of grassland can be easily composted into 10 acres of soil, while a high-density feed lot will produce much more manure than the land area it occupies can possibly incorporate through natural processes. So the manure ends up polluting nearby water bodies.

    This is true, but I think it is due to poor biomass management on the part of the feedlot owner and local farmers combined(most US feedlots are located in the midwest, convienently enough the same place that the corn and soy that is fed to the cows is grown). Farmers have waste crop residues (corn husks, stalk, etc) that could be used to compost the manure which could then be used by the farmer to support his tillage and prevent soil exhaustion. It may not be nitrogen rich enough to preclude additional fertilizer, but it would be advantageous to both the feedlot and farmer to participate in the endevour.

    As a side note, if cattle are fed GM corn can they be exported to the EU?

  14. Seeing as this planet has been covered with farting animals for millions of years, I find it very had to believe that people believe that the weather is now, and only now, being affected by animal farts, and that therefor we need to do something about it.

  15. Another reason to move livestock to alternative foodsources is that the current staple, corn, is being used in ever greater amounts to generate ethanol. How ironic (or at least convenient) would it be, if the mad rush to corn-based ethanol forced farmers and ranchers to feed their livestock something else, which was better suited to their digestive tracts, reducing flatulence and increasing nutrition at the same time…? Now that’s an unintended consequence I could … er … get behind???

  16. Grass fed beef tastes like shoe leather, corn fed beef tastes like orgasms.

  17. Grass-fed beef commands higher prices.

    Go to any grocery store that stocks regular and grass-fed beef, and compare the prices.

  18. “For example, the volume of manure produced by the number of cattle that can be supported by 10 acres of grassland can be easily composted into 10 acres of soil …”

    Let the record reflect that Joe is an expert at producing manure.

  19. Wait a minute, that isn’t ink!

  20. Actually most of the methane produced in a ruminant’s digestive system is produced in the rumen or the first stomach. Most of this gas is expelled when the animal regurgitates its cud for rechewing. Some is also released as burps to relive pressure and some of it is aspirated after being absorbed through the stomach lining into the bloodstream whence it is released into the lungs.

    Some, of course, moves to the other stomachs as digestion proceeds and, of course, some is produced in those stomachs. This gas, naturally, is expelled as farts.

    However, the largest part of the methane a ruminant produces is a natural part of its producing nutrients (sugar, fatty acids, amino acids etc) from grass which is mainly cellulose. Furthermore this process is essential and is unlikely to be altered in any meaningful way.

    Please note that this process is common to all ruminants which includes many wild species like deer and elk. Of course it goes without saying that the domestication of cows and sheep has produced much larger populations of these species*.

    Now as joe notes, the whole process is thrown out of whack by the feeding of “unnatural” feeds like corn and soy beans** combined with the concentration of animals in the feedlots. It is almost certainly true that better management of biowastes is called for.

    *I am also aware that domestic sheep and cows never actually existed in nature but are the products of selective breeding of species that do or did.

    **If I am not mistaken these feeds already have a high sugar content and may seriously disrupt the ruminant digestive process, hence producing abnormally high levels of methane.

  21. I think you could use a cow as a weapon of mass desrtuction. Shove 20 bags of doritos down his throat. Shove a kerozene soaked hankerchief up his wazoo. Then you’d have a 1200 lbs molotov cocktail.
    When you see cows dropping from the sky, you’d know to run.

  22. Warren | January 5, 2007, 1:47pm | #
    Grass fed beef tastes like shoe leather, corn fed beef tastes like orgasms.

    joe | January 5, 2007, 1:54pm | #
    Grass-fed beef commands higher prices.

    There are certainly those who have strong opinions on this subject.

    As the supply officer on a ship in the South Pacific in WWII my father received a shipment of Australian beef. The cooks complained about the butchering (they apparently had to retrim it and throw half of it away) and the men complained about the sour, gamy taste and the greenish-yellow color of the fat.

    On the other hand Australians tend to find American corn-fed beef bland and flavorless.

  23. Miliband is just another government gassbag.
    This problem is equivalent to a fart in a whirlwind. Leave it to Ron Bailey to make a big stink about it.

  24. BTW, “It must be better, because it costs more” is an idiotic argument that should have been laughed off the board ten seconds after I wrote it. Anywhere else, it would have been.

    Around here, it counts as a devestating rebuttal.

  25. **If I am not mistaken these feeds already have a high sugar content and may seriously disrupt the ruminant digestive process, hence producing abnormally high levels of methane.
    They do, but most feedlots substitute at least a portion of the grain with brewer’s grain which is very high in protien and has minimal sugar(due to it having been converted to the alcohol in my beer). I don’t really know what difference converting cows to an all grass diet might have on methane production or solid biowastes. That’d take more time to research than I am willing to put into it today.

  26. BTW, “It must be better, because it costs more” is an idiotic argument that should have been laughed off the board ten seconds after I wrote it. Anywhere else, it would have been.

    It still is an idiotic argument. You didn’t say it was better, you just said it costs more. That is a given. It costs more because it takes more grass (or grassland) to feed the cattle than it does to fatten it on a feedlot. In addition, feedlot cattle are ready to send to market sooner than grass fed, hence increasing turnover. Nobody is going to laugh you off the board for stating the obvious Joe.

  27. BTW, “It must be better, because it costs more” is an idiotic argument that should have been laughed off the board ten seconds after I wrote it.

    I fail to understand why it’s an idiotic argument.

    It is clearly better to someone, or there would be no demand for the product at the higher price. It likely costs more to produce, or enough producers would enter the market to bring the price premium back down to zero.

    Unless you pretend to judge people’s taste in meat — or whatever other value, say, free-range, they wish to see in meat — you must recognize that “It must be better (for someone), because it costs more” is a perfectly valid statement.

    Now if you are trying to argue that the statement proves that it is better for everyone, that it doesn’t do. Someone is still demanding the cheap meat at the lower price. You can’t tell if they would all prefer the expensive meat were price not a factor.

  28. Kwix,

    Unstated – because it’s taken for granted – is that the continued existence of this higher-priced variety demonstrates that it is more highly valued by Da Mahket.

  29. joe, your imagination is running away on you again.

    Nobody responded because you made a fairly uncontroversial statement.

    Once again you have proved yourself the master of drawing unwarranted conclusions.

  30. Troy
    Bovine WMDs are a great idea and have already been proven effective.

    I believe the French catapulted a cow over the walls of the castle arrrrrggghhh and killed one of King Arthur’s minstrels.

  31. Am I wrong? Doesn’t continued existence of higher prices actually show that something is less valuable to the public? If it was valued by customers, the price would inevitably fall as more competition arises. As it is, most consumers feel that cornfed beef at a lower price is a better value.

    Now, for those people who consume the grassfed beef, they believe that it is more valuable and hence worth the higher monetary price.

  32. The Castele What?

  33. “If it was valued by customers, the price would inevitably fall as more competition arises.”

    Only to the extent that the higher prices result from profit-taking, or from production costs that can be cut without eliminating the additional value.

    The higher cost of a leather jacket compared to a pleather one doesn’t prove that leather jackets are less popular, just that they cost more to produce.

    (BTW, the price of organic, free-range, and grass-fed meat is coming down at the practices become more widespread and the individual operations expand, but will probably never be as cheap as factor farm meat. Unless we start making factory farms start covering the costs of their externalities.)

  34. The higher cost of a leather jacket compared to a pleather one doesn’t prove that leather jackets are less popular, just that they cost more to produce.

    This argument is true when it is assumed that no further improvements in production are available and the price is more closely related to inflation than anything else. Using the leather/pleather example, I wouldn’t be surprised if leather jacket prices actually increase at a slower rate than pleather.

    (BTW, the price of organic, free-range, and grass-fed meat is coming down at the practices become more widespread and the individual operations expand, but will probably never be as cheap as factor farm meat. Unless we start making factory farms start covering the costs of their externalities.)

    I really just wanted to point out that from your earlier post, higher price doesn’t necessarily mean higher value in the market place for everyone. If the same results come from a pleather jacket as a leather jacket (warmth, lifespan, durability, etc) wouldn’t a pleather jacket make more sense to some people who can’t really afford leather? Alternatively, maybe a leather jacket will allow the person more professional opportunities which would outweigh the current extra costs.

  35. Factory frams utilize corn-based feed because …

    Also, government has played a huge role in establishing our current system of massive feedlots where cattle are fed on corn, by subsidizing corn growing, and giving the feedlots tax breaks and exemptions from waste run-off regulation.

  36. Well, beef in Australia is comparable in price to beef here. It is all grass fed and range raised although since most graziers use commercial fertilizers to promote grass growth it’s not “organic”.

  37. Alternatively, maybe a leather jacket will allow the person more professional opportunities which would outweigh the current extra costs.
    Unless this individual is a gigilo or a bike gang member, I wan’t to know what profession you are referring to. I suppose an international leather-daddy could also make use of some dead cow for ‘opportunities’.

  38. I worry for the future of England. When the contemplation of banning animal farts start swirling, one can’t help but think of Caligula.

    This is utter nonsense, and given the UK’s love of the nanny state, you just can’t help but wonder what’s going to happen next.

  39. Unless this individual is a gigilo or a bike gang member, I wan’t to know what profession you are referring to. I suppose an international leather-daddy could also make use of some dead cow for ‘opportunities’.

    In this case, the guy goes for a job interview, the interviewer looks at his pleather and thinks to himself “this dude is poor, maybe he will steal from us, I’m not hiring him”. Haven’t you seen the special Christmas episode of Saved by the Bell?

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