Cows are an integral part of America's blueprint. But, these methane-producing animals, concentrated by the thousands on factory farms, are fueling our planet’s destruction and polluting the world through one deadly process: farting. How can such a lovable animal cause so much harm?
Image Credit: Stijn te Strake
Cow belches contribute significantly to global warming. Like sheep and goats, cows have four stomachs. One of them, known as the rumen, stores partially digested food. Once the food ferments, cows regurgitate it, beginning a process known as enteric fermentation. Then, when they belch, methane is released.
Although cow flatulence is humorous, its effects on the planet are not. As a greenhouse gas, methane contributes to higher temperatures and climate change. According to the UN, methane is 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide over a 20 year period.
Once cow waste enters our waterways, both humans and marine life are severely harmed. When it rains, cow poop is carried into nearby waterways, causing algal blooms. When algae die, they use high levels of oxygen to decompose, leading to the death of fish due to asphyxiation. These barren waters caused by algal blooms are referred to as “dead zones.”
In the Chesapeake Bay, the largest contributor to decreased water quality is agricultural runoff. Each year, approximately 300 million pounds of nitrogen, a component of manure, enters Chesapeake Bay waters. Not only are these eerie waters devoid of life, but also economic profit. With highly polluted waters causing an obsolescence of marine life, local fisheries are at risk of collapse.
Cow waste is not the only environmental issue of serious concern with the meat industry. Cattle are packed into feedlots, given very little room and fed unnatural diets. Surrounded by thousands of other cattle, the animals are dosed on antibiotics, causing both harm to cows and humans who consume meat products. The cruelty of the meat industry is undeniable.
The underlying issue is unethical and careless practices of the meat industry and citizens' unsustainable intake of meat products. The lack of regulation imposed has led to big name companies, such as Tyson and Steinfield, to pollute 104m tons of manure into waterways for the past decade.
Reducing intake of meat products and imposing stricter regulations on corporations are important steps in ensuring the future viability of marine life and society. Lifestyle choices are difficult to change, but extremely beneficial when done so.
Despite their deadly flatulence and its effects on the environment, cows are actually beneficial in various ways. They consume food inedible for humans and provide us with food and other byproducts. However, is their presence more valuable than other vulnerable marine species? Why should the livelihood of one animal lead to the death of others?
Our planet is already reaping the effects of global warming. Ice caps are melting. Parts of the US are extraordinarily warm. Human illnesses are rampant. The future of our earth is at stake, so how will you make a difference in this carnivorous world?