California implements methane reduction targets
The US state of California introduced limitations on greenhouse gas emissions into law on 19 September 2016, specifically targeting the dairy and livestock industries.
The laws will require the implementation of strategies to achieve a 40 per cent reduction in methane emissions below 2013 levels by 2030. This is to be implemented by 1 January 2018.
The laws also aim to reduce hydrofluorocarbon (gases used in refrigeration and air conditioning) by 40 per cent below 2013 levels and anthropogenic black carbon (created by burning fossil fuels) by 50 per cent below 2013 levels by 2030.
The dairy and livestock industries are specifically mentioned. The state board is to work with industry to reduce methane emissions from livestock manure management systems. Farmers will receive US $50 million generated from California’s emissions cap-and-trade program.
Australia recognises a broad target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions to 5 per cent below 2000 levels by 2020. Meat and Livestock Australia, using CSIRO measurements, has run a government-funded program to research ways to reduce livestock methane production.
Much ado about cow farts
Methane is regarded as a particularly damaging greenhouse gas. While it does not remain in the atmosphere for as long as some other gasses, such as carbon dioxide, it is more effective at retaining heat.
Cattle are known for producing significant amounts of methane. The 2014 Australian National Greenhouse Gas Inventory found that of the 107,116,170 tonnes of methane produced in Australia, 52 per cent was produced in agriculture. A little over 1 per cent, or 1,113,560 tonnes, was produced in cattle manure management.
This is not the first time that the dairy and livestock industries have been the subject of environmental concern. The CSIRO has used data from its Healthy Diet Score survey to recommend increased uptake of vegetarian diets, in order to reduce the environmental footprint of food.
It has also been suggested that red meat consumption should be reduced in order to prevent cancer risks.
It isn’t all bad news for gassy grazers
Despite these concerns, the response does not seem to be to phase out livestock production. Agriculture is a significant contributor to the world economy, and livestock makes up a significant portion of this.
In December 2015, the CSIRO also announced that cattle methane emissions were 24 per cent lower than had been previously estimated, due to changes in the methodology used by the National Greenhouse Gas Inventory.
Regulators are also moving more towards new technology and management methods to reduce emissions, rather than a wholesale move away from livestock. This is seen in the Californian laws, which require state authorities to consult with industry about the introduction of particular waste management technologies such as solids separations systems and enteric fermentation.
Present studies into improved feeding methods, waste management and land management can result in more efficient livestock use, where less methane is produced for a given agricultural output.
It certainly does not look like the end result will be for these flatulent cattle to be gone with the wind.