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Kill or Save the Environment With Cattle

27 November 2013

GLOBAL - New focus was put on cattle farming’s environmental impact this week after a study concluded US methane emissions could be 50 per cent higher than officially calculated.

The study, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, painted a dim picture for both agriculture and fossil fuels.

In their conclusion, the team, led by Harvard University’s Scott M Miller, concluded greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture and fossil fuel extraction were likely a factor of two or greater than prior estimates.

But, to look solely at emissions without considering the cow's environment would be blinkered, explained Dr Anita Idel, a veterinary surgeon from Austria earlier this month.

Summarising findings of a World Agriculture report into sustainable farming, Dr Idel said that waste gases, do represent a problem, but so does a farming system that fails to put cattle on grassland.

She explained that, in focusing on methane, not enough attention is given to the ‘multi-functional linkages’ between animal, soil and plants in a grazing environment.

When this interaction becomes understood, Dr Idel’s message was that cows can be viewed as a ‘climate saviour’

These are further embellished when considering that humans do not eat grass, but compete with livestock feed for grain, argued Dr Idel.

“One third of the world’s grain ends up in feed troughs,” said Dr Idel.

“More than half of high protein, energy rich feed in the EU is imported. The Rainforest has been cut down to grow soy for decades.”

But, she conceded methane posed a threat to climate change, it being over 20 times more damaging to the climate than carbon dioxide.

However, the role cattle play in providing healthy, fertile soils was also explored because considering only methane leads people to the ‘wrong conclusions’, she added.

The action of grazing, excreting and trampling were all cited as beneficial to triggering grass growth and building humus when applied in the right intensity.

Developing ‘grass carpets’ is important and locks in carbon dioxide away from the atmosphere and prevents erosion, she added.

She argued for the importance of humus, commenting: “Each ton of additional humus relieves the atmosphere due to the high carbon content of more than 1.8 tons of CO2. At the same time this humus is a guarantee of soil fertility.”

‘Cows are an environmental saviour’, summarised Dr Idel. “The decision whether to kill or protect the environment with ruminants lies with us.”

TheCattleSite News Desk

Top image via Shutterstock

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