The Burping Cow

June 29, 2021

Dealing with the environmental menace of cows.

Cows apparently are a menace.

They’ve been villainized, directly and indirectly, for decades. First it was health concerns about the dairy and red meat they provide; more recently, it’s their environmental impacts. These include groundwater pollution, overgrazing and methane emissions.

Gee, and they’re so cute.

The methane problem is especially bad. Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas, said to be 25 times worse than carbon dioxide in terms of its impact on climate change. Cows emit methane when they belch.

Cargill, one of the planet’s biggest beef suppliers, is trying to do something about this. It’s partnering with a UK startup named Zelp to develop masks for cows to wear over their noses that absorb methane from their belches, converting it to less harmful carbon dioxide.

I don’t have any idea yet if this is viable, but I do remember that when the question of bovine gaseous emissions arose years ago, the initial concern was at the other end, so to speak. To put it crudely, it was first thought that the problem was farts, not burps. Science on the subject has, shall we say, turned around, to the point where it is now believed that 90% to 95% of a cow’s methane emissions do in fact leave through its mouth, instead of its...well, you know.

That’s good, because I couldn’t begin to imagine how a device to capture and treat emissions at the other end would work.

The device being tested by Cargill has the added benefit of being able to analyze the cow’s emissions for clues as to its eating habits. I imagine testing the other end would be even more accurate in that regard, but...

I think I’m going to bail without finishing that sentence.