My name is Cathryn Zimmerman. I am a junior majoring in Conservation and Wildlife Management. I grew up in Bensalem and Northeast Philadelphia, and I enjoy spending time with my family, friends, and my bearded dragon Zeus.
By Cathryn Zimmerman
Cow farts, cow poop, cow burps. It’s a relatively common topic of conversation when climate change is discussed.
Many people like to enjoy a burger or steak, but few are interested in the gory details involved as well as the environmental impacts that this industry can cause. This idea of methane produced from cows makes a reasonable concern, considering that as of 2022, the global population of cattle is about one billion head.
With all of this meat consumption comes the elephant in the room of farming and raising beef for slaughter. What can we do?
Experts from Delaware Valley University point to ways farmers can reduce their carbon footprint and reduce emissions through the process of raising cattle for slaughter as well as through the slaughter process itself. Research also shows that methane in cow manure may be used as renewable energy for electricity or even fuel.
Now, cattle aren’t all being bred and raised just for the fun of it. According to the Consumer Surveying group, Statista, around 86 percent of people eat meat.
Besides the buzz topic of methane, factory farming and farming for meat production result in an abundance of greenhouse gasses being released into our atmosphere. As described by Compassion in World Farming, factory farming “is a major contributor to the climate change challenge, releasing vast volumes of greenhouse gases.”
Countries across the globe have pledged to reduce methane emissions. In fact, the U.S. and European Union made that pledge along with 100 countries that together are responsible for nearly 50% of global human-caused methane emissions.
According to the pledge, those countries are committed to reducing methane emissions by at least 30% below 2020 levels by 2030.
To keep such a promise, farmers are delving closely into their practices to find new solutions. A farmer cannot farm or house cows without some sort of land. Clearing away forests in order to acquire extra land reduces carbon sinks in that area, and releases any gasses that were previously stored in the soil and vegetation.
Fertilizer also plays an important role in farming, whether it be manure or chemical fertilizers. While farmers are just trying to provide supply to meet their demand, these fertilizers also aid in the release of methane as well as nitrous oxide.
Plenty of information has been relayed regarding the various impacts that farming has on our environment as a whole. But what can be done to help this issue? With meat being consumed and demanded at such a high volume, it can seem almost senseless and an overall a poor attempt at a solution to just simply demand for the entire world to stop eating meat.
Colorado State University with the American Hereford Association has conducted research of the genetic influences of methane production in cattle. It was found that a cattle’s methane emissions could be heritable as well as correlate with feed intake. Information and research such as this shows to be a good start to providing reliable solutions to some of the problems at hand. However, there is more that would need to be done in order to truly understand the impacts that raising cattle and the slaughter industry can have and what can be done to try and offset these negative impacts.
Brandon DeFranco, a professor at Delaware Valley University, is a fourth generation farmer as well as a fifth generation butcher. He has had experience with animals such as sheep, goats, and cattle. DeFranco outlined the resources used in the process of raising cattle for slaughter as well as the slaughter process itself.
First, it was described that the resources used for raising cattle will vary depending on where one lives. Using an area like Wyoming, where DeFranco had spent a year and a half living and farming, more land may need to be used compared to an area such as Pennsylvania. As detailed, cattle would be pushed up a mountain in order to feed. However, there are strict regulations in place that only will allow a certain amount of animals on land for a certain amount of time. In using this natural ground, cattle are only allowed to use about 40% of that land, while the rest is reserved for wildlife in the area.
In addition, there are also feed lots that cattle are sent to in order to gain weight and grow before slaughter. In order to then transport these cattle to the slaughterhouse, trucks are needed, which will carry about 60 cows.
Onto the slaughter of the cattle itself, DeFranco mentioned how a large amount of water is used in these facilities in order to properly clean the meat. In addition, carcasses are sanitized using lactic acid, acetic acid, and bleach solutions to kill off any remaining bacteria and ensure that there is no E. coli or salmonella risk.
Despite this entire process, DeFranco is able to point out some of the procedures involved that can be unknown or overlooked by many. It is mentioned that anything that is unused in the slaughterhouse has the potential to be rendered down and used as fertilizer through a biodigester. According to the Green Business Bureau, a biodigester digests organic material and is an eco-friendly way to reduce a farm’s carbon footprint. Rather than having this unused material decay and ultimately release methane and carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, a biodigester allows for a farmer to give back to the land and capture these emissions for effective use.
He said methane can be used for energy. As also written about in an Undeniably Dairy article, there are efforts surrounding the concept of recovering methane in cow manure in order to use it as a renewable energy for electricity or even fuel.
Many articles and studies released on this subject show the harm that farming does to our environment. While these facts can be undeniable, efforts are underway to change that process in order to be sustainable and environmentally friendly.
Farming will be around for as long as there is a demand. Since, few people are giving up their burgers and steaks, it’s necessary to help create realistic and attainable solutions for the environmental impacts that follow.
Turning to new practices and resources like the biodigester may help people to see that dairies can be a solution to environmental problems, rather than a threat.