Meet the World’s Top Destroyer of the Environment — COWS

… because Bessy wanted to be on your dinner plate.

Over the past couple of years, the beef industry has seen an increase in their production rate across the board, thanks to us (us being the meat eaters of the world). There are an endless number of things -cars, electricity, agriculture, etc.- that contribute to climate change, but all of these things can be traced back to the human race. Cows are not killing the planet, we are.

What’s the problem?

Recently, there has been data that shows that agriculture, especially the beef industry, is considered to contribute greatly to air and water pollution, deforestation, and greenhouse gases. Cows are thought to be one of the greatest contributors to climate change. An average cow can emit more than 100 different polluting gases and they release as much carbon dioxide as a car; and with a growing number of cattle around the world, we can only expect a greater increase in climate change. How do cows release these gases? Cows belong to a class of animals called ruminants, which also includes sheep and goats. Ruminants have four different stomachs and this is where their digestion takes place, with the help of bacteria and microbes. As these bugs help digest the food, they produce methane that has to be released one way or another.

But cows themselves are not the greatest reason for climate change, it’s the major production of these animals that is contributing to the death of our planet. It is not false that cows release a relatively large amount of gases into the environment, but it causes more damage to the environment raising and processing cattle for our benefits. Studies have shown that when cattle farms are properly utilizing their farmland and irrigation, cattle production is actually economically and environmentally sustainable and can actually help the overall health of forage and soil, which in turn, absorbs more carbon out of the air.

What goes into making a pound of beef?

Like any other large production, it takes a lot to get the end product. Let’s put water in perspective; it takes about 240 gallons of water to produce one loaf of bread, it takes about 382 to produce a pound of cheese, and a pound of beef requires about 1,800 gallons of water. But now put gasoline for transportation into the equation: upwards of 20% of gases contributing to climate change come from transporting vegetables, 18% of greenhouse gases come from transporting cattle. But cattle farming affects more than just the air quality, over 260 million acres of forest has been cleared to make more room for crop fields. This kind of deforestation occurs all over the world to feed cows and many other livestock animals. Water is also affected by large farming of animals; in some areas, there are agricultural water run-offs that potentially destroy water systems like rivers and streams.

Can we fix it? Yes, we can!

Although we cannot remove all the greenhouse gases this industry has put out, we can definitely change our habits to reduce the yearly output. Change would start on existing systems of cattle production; there needs to be a better adoption of the practices and technologies in feeding, health and management of these cattle. This can be done by changing and rotating the pastures the cows graze on. The next step would be to better the factories where cattle go when they’re ready for production. This could be done by using biogas generators and energy saving devices in these factories.

We can also change out personal habits. Becoming vegetarian isn’t the only way to save the planet, especially if you are a meat lover. Purchasing organic beef, or even small farmed beef, help reduce the emissions released into the environment during transportation. The cattle themselves may be releasing gases into the environment but the production of cattle is all part of a bigger picture, it is the exhaust that comes from the production that is more harmful to the world. If we do not try to control the amount of greenhouse gases that go into our atmosphere because of these large productions, we can expect to see greater temperature increases throughout the years, a raise in sea level, increased acidity in oceans, threats to human health, and much more.