Jamelle has an interesting post up about the environmental threat of cattle. Methane gasses emitted by cow burps and farts severely damage the environment, and curbing the amount of methane released will undoubtedly have to be a part of any adequate plan to address the threat posed by global warming. Studies have shown that converting a cow’s diet from (heavily-subsidized) corn and soybeans to easily digested feed like flaxseed and alfalfa would be an important step.
Jamelle mentions the political problems posed by shifts away from corn feed, although I think he gets it backwards when he writes, “our high rate of beef consumption is key to maintaining an absurd and outdated subsidy regime. And while reducing our beef consumption certainly won’t put an end on our massive and unsustainable agricultural (read: corn) subsidies, it could play a part in reducing the “need” for said subsidies.” But corn isn’t subsidized because cattle farmers needed cheaper feed, rather corn is fed to cattle because it’s cheap, in part because of heavy federal subsidies.
One last note: even changing cows’ diets, won’t make beef production sustainable. It takes about 15 pounds of feed to make 1 pound of beef, 6 pounds of feed for 1 pound of pork and 5 pounds of feed for 1 pound of chicken. Red meat just isn’t efficient and if we are serious about addressing the harms of anthropogenic climate change, there are going to be some tough choices to make in the coming years regarding our diets.
Lastly, I apologize for the title of this post and promise that in the future I will refrain from any use of the word moocow.