There are many environmental problems associated with ruminant livestock and these problems continue to grow as the demand for meat-rich diets increases around the world. One of the biggest problems is that cows emit methane through eructation (or belching) as they chew their cud. Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas, some 25 times more potent at trapping heat than carbon dioxide. More than a quarter of all human-originated methane going into the atmosphere comes from raising livestock.
A recent paper published by U.K and German scientists has revealed that as the climate warms, the plants growing in warmer conditions are tougher and have lower nutritional value to livestock. Higher amounts of methane are released when plants are tougher to digest.
The scientists identified the vicious cycle associated with the warming climate and increasing methane emissions from cattle and have advocated undertaking efforts to mitigate the problem. They are working to identify native forage plants that are associated with high meat and milk production and less methane and to increase their presence on the grazing landscape.
Global meat production has risen from 78 million tons in 1961 to 350 million tons in 2014 and grazing lands now cover 30% of the earth’s ice-free surface. Livestock contributes $1.4 trillion to the global economy and employs 1.3 billion people around the world. Clearly the industry can’t continue to grow as it has but it isn’t going to disappear either. It is a global challenge to balance the demands of this gigantic enterprise with the need for sustainability and reducing its impact on the environment. It is not an easy task.
Photo, posted July 12, 2013, courtesy of the U.S. Department of Agriculture via Flickr.