On the Edge of Common Sense
by Baxter Black, DVM
As global warming increases, and most agree it has regardless of the cause, ruminant raisers are going to become conversant in a new field of science called ‘Bovine Emissions Lately Considered Hazardous,’ or B.E.L.C.H.
The study of B.E.L.C.H. will revolve around a simple formula; greenhouse gas emissions per pound of beef produced. It is obvious, if the world truly wanted to reduce methane and nitrous oxide (two of the big three greenhouse gases), they could destroy all ruminants. For the sake of the economy and human survival we should first have a mass eradication of all wildlife species that produce those two gases. From the eland, the mountain goat and the giraffe to the elk, the llama and the buffalo in Yellowstone Park.
Or, since carbon offsets are allowed for coal and oil-driven emitters, we could allow methane offsets. For instance, if you normally run 200 cows on your farm, you could get set-aside subsidies for only running 100 cows. The U.S. Conservation Districts are already able to calculate grazing land CRP payments. They could calculate a B.U.R.P. (Bovine Use Reduction Payments).
In the meantime, global warming should bring longer summers, thus longer grazing seasons. As we do research on B.E.L.C.H., I expect we will discover the more a ruminant eats, the more methane gas it will produce. So improving the ratio of feed per pound of gain will be stressed. There are many products on the market now in accordance with our desire to reduce methane emissions; growth additives will become mandatory. Grass fat beef would be considered too expensive due to the length of time required to make them tender and the additional number of cattle required to meet the quota. But they might get methane offsets to trade against the fuel used to grow and transport grain to feedlots.
Another area to consider is palatability. Tenderness derives from two basic factors; youth and marbling. We could mandate cattle be slaughtered at less than three months of age, following the model of veal which is always tender. That way the critter would not even have to become a serious ruminant.
I expect in the years to come, or until the next ice age prediction, we will develop feed additives which will convert methane into Kool Aid, a lactobacillus liqueur or Glade Air Freshener and be considered inert.
Or, we’ll develop a use for methane in the cure of cancer or aromatherapy and it will be financially viable to trap all emissions in a cow-shaped polyethylene facemask or a rumen fistula installed in each ruminant at their Bar Mitzvah.
Ah, the possibilities are endless. But I have faith that we as a global community with all our cowboy wisdom and computer models will solve the B.E.L.C.H. problem and move on to other, more pressing issues…like the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and whether the Cubs will ever win the World Series. Because the alternative is unthink-able…chicken every night!
Baxter Black is a former large animal veterinarian who can be followed nationwide through this column, National Public Radio, public appearances, television and also through his books, cds, videos and website, www.baxterblack.com.