Farmed cows in Britain could soon be given “methane blockers” to reduce their environmental impact.
The proposal is part of the country’s plan to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions. In the government’s net zero growth strategy, published in March, it states that “high-efficacy methane-suppressing products” could hit the market by 2025. It’s thought that farmers could be forced to use them if they prove effective.
Around a third of human-caused methane comes from cattle, which they mostly emit through belching. The methane blocker announcement comes after a consultation on how new animal feeds could reduce digestive emissions. Such products are reportedly being trialed in the UK, but there is said to be no conclusive evidence on the extent to which they work.
Experts criticize the plans
While many in the farming community have welcomed the plans, animal rights and green campaigners are less than convinced. The idea has been dubbed a “techno fix” by some, as it doesn’t address the root cause of the problem: the cows themselves.
“Governments and industry love their techno fixes like cattle feed methane suppressants and these may help a bit,” Vicki Hird, head of farming for Sustain, an alliance of organizations that promote more sustainable food and farming, told the Guardian.
“But they won’t fix the major harms associated with our huge livestock fixation, from rainforest clearance for feeds and pasture to UK river pollution and harm to wildlife, all of which inhibit action on climate, too. We need to produce and eat less and better meat using agro-ecological tools known for whole farm and nature benefits.”
Elisa Allen, PETA Vice President of UK Programmes and Operations, told Plant Based News that the idea is “foolish and absurd.”
“Feeding cows ‘methane blockers’ while continuing to farm them is like applying a sticking plaster to a broken bone,” she added. “It is a desperate act that absolutely fails to mitigate the ecological nightmare caused by the dirty old habit of raising and killing animals for food.”
The problem with cow farming
There are thought to be around 9.4 million farmed cattle and calves in the UK. Cows are raised for both milk and meat, and are one of the world’s most popular animals to eat.
Despite the huge demand for beef, it has long been highlighted as the most environmentally destructive food. A 2018 University of Oxford study found that people in western countries needed to reduce consumption of cow meat by 90 percent to avoid climate catastrophe.
As well as greenhouse gasses, cattle ranching is a leading cause of deforestation. Due to vast swathes of forest being cleared to make way for farms, it’s also a key driver of biodiversity loss.