After many years of debate surrounding the issue, the New Zealand government are finally close to calling a ruling regarding the methane issue. The production of methane by cows, and other farm animals like sheep, has a warming potential 60-80 times worse than that of CO2, although it’s still second to the gas in terms of its prevalence. With around 10 million cattle and 26 million sheep in the country, Aotearoa is responsible for much of the international methane production that traps heat in Earth's atmosphere.
The fault lies partly in the overproduction of farming, producing larger numbers of cattle than would normally exist in the wild, but also our active experiments at breeding. Science has shown that the properties of methane have a lot to do with the microbes that live in the stomachs of cows, with this trait passing down the line genetically. Our contribution to the breeding of the modern cow has led to an increase in this methane-producing microbe — but selective breeding could also be the answer. In 2012, scientists commissioned by the EU collected samples of 1,000 European cows to determine the nature of these microbes and assess the validity of a specialised breeding plan based on environmental concerns rather than consumers' bellies.
While such a plan has yet to be implemented, New Zealand is aiming to begin a taxation campaign for farmers on methane production. The plan is an incentive to get farmers to change some of their habits, feeding cows less grass or grains that produce a greater methane yield and trying other alternatives such as seaweed (although we are not sure what the cows will make of this!).
The long-awaited solution, however, appears to be a case of too little, too late, as we wait another three years to see if this new bill will pass.
Other options for the NZ Government and farming community is to farm alternative food produce, such as crops to reduce meat and dairy production. They could also look offering incentives for farmers to plant native flora and fauna to improve Aotearoa's natural biodiversity helping keep our ecosystem flourishing.
Sources: Climate Source News, National Geographic, Earthly Education
About the author - meet Earthan James McCulloch
James is a literary student and environmental enthusiast who likes thinking about the better futures we could have (and those we best avoid). When not playing with other people’s dogs or taking long, mindful walks, he’s usually found reading and writing, often at the local library. You can check him out on his blog for something a little different, where he talks about all things literary or otherwise.