As if auto and industrial emissions aren’t enough to pollute our air, it is now being found that cattle also makes its “contributions” to causing environmental pollution. In fact, one European country, Lithuania, has now passed a law that dairy farmers in that country are liable to pay fines for undue “emissions” of methane gas for both belching and flatulence of cattle. It appears that large numbers of dairy cattle, confined to feed lots on dairy farms, one of Lithuania’s most important agricultural industries, has reached the point that unacceptable levels of methane gas is being produced as a “by-product” of these dairy herds.
Cattle, like other hoofed mammals including deer and antelope, are ruminants and have a four chambered stomach. After eating grass, grains and other cattle food, they must belch up the food and chew it thoroughly before finally swallowing it again. This process, know as “chewing the cud” enables the food to be finally digested. Doing so, it results in both the belching and the release of large quantities of gas due to the high fiber content of the cow’s feces.
So, far, Lithuania is the only country in Europe to have passed such a law, and its implications are being carefully monitored by dairy and beef farmers in other E. U. countries who also have large dairy herds, including Denmark, Germany, Holland, and Belgium.
Methane gas is also produced in large quantities at sewage disposal and recycling facilities, also as a by-product of decaying waste material. Although methane gas is being considered as a possible alternative fuel source since there appears to be plentiful supply, it has a very high global warming potential and contributes to what is now known as the “greenhouse effect”. The amount of methane gas present in the earth’s atmosphere is now more than 1,800 parts per billion, as compared to an estimated 750 parts per billion in the beginning of the 19th Century. Of course, the Earth’s population has grown considerably since then, resulting in much more garbage, sewage, and other decaying material that causes this gas to be formed. There is also considerably much more cattle in the world, which adds to the amount of methane gas eventually reaching the Earth’s atmosphere.
How dairy farmers in countries such as Lithuania plan to solve this problem is now under speculation, as trying to plug up the rear source of the gas obviously won’t work, as well as trying to put some kind of bib-like device on the cow’s mouth. It’ll be interesting to follow the development of this story in Europe. After all, the issue is much more than just “hot air”.