By Dan Nosowitz
When we think of dangerous gases emitted by cattle, the logical first thought is of methane, let loose into the air by burps and farts to contribute to climate change. But cattle are complex creatures in their diversity of noxious fumes, and the FDA just approved the first drug to treat a lesser-known one.
Cattle produce ammonia—well, sort of. According to Penn State, it would be more accurate to say that cattle are very inefficient at breaking down nitrogen, which they take in as part of their diet. They pass that nitrogen out mostly in urine, where it's reasonably harmless. But there are enzymes in cattle feces that, when they mix with cattle urine, form ammonia and ammonia is not reasonably harmless. This is a problem at its worst in indoor facilities, especially larger farms and indoor dairy farms, where liquid and solid waste combine on floors.
Aside from the fact that ammonia smells really bad and can be an irritant for humans and animals around it, ammonia can also contribute to something called eutrophication. Eutrophication is the process by which, in this case, ammonia goes into water sources and promotes the mass growth of algae and other organisms, throwing off ecosystems and sometimes choking waterways. Excess of algae on the surface of ponds and lakes can end up killing marine animals.
The FDA this week sent its official approval of a drug called Experior, the first approved drug tasked with reducing gas produced by waste. According to studies conducted by both Elanco, the company that makes Experior, and others, Experior has no known health effects on cattle, with treated cattle showing about the same growth patterns and ailments as non-treated cattle.
There are, of course, other solutions to the ammonia problem. Experior reduces ammonia production by 14 to 18 percent, according to its FDA filing. Great! But other studies have been done in which farmers simply feed their cattle less nitrogen-containing protein—primarily soy—and those studies have shown that simply a better diet can reduce ammonia by up to 40 percent. Experior seems good! But feeding cattle appropriate diets—like grass—might also be good. Or better.
Reposted with permission from our media associate Modern Farmer.
By Alison Van Eenennaam
A battle royale is brewing over what to call animal cells grown in cell culture for food. Should it be in-vitro meat, cellular meat, cultured meat or fermented meat? What about animal-free meat, slaughter-free meat, artificial meat, synthetic meat, zombie meat, lab-grown meat, non-meat or artificial muscle proteins?
Then there is the polarizing "fake" versus "clean" meat framing that boils this complex topic down to a simple good versus bad dichotomy. The opposite of fake is of course the ambiguous but desirous "natural." And modeled after "clean" energy, "clean" meat is by inference superior to its alternative, which must logically be "dirty" meat.
The narrative posited by, for now let us call it cultured meat, proponents is that animal agriculture requires large amounts of land and water, and produces high levels of greenhouse gases (GHG). The environmental impacts of a product, such as a beef hamburger, is then compared to the anticipatory ones for producing a cultured hamburger patty through tissue engineering-based cellular agriculture.
I research how biotechnology can improve livestock production, and while it is true that conventional meat production has a large environmental footprint, the problem with this dichotomous framing is that it overlooks the rest of the story.
Cattle produce more than just hamburgers for well-off consumers, and they typically do so by utilizing rain-fed forage growing on non-arable land. Additionally, cellular hamburger patties are themselves not an environmental impact-free lunch, especially from the perspective of energy use.
Energy Inputs Versus Methane
Cultured meat requires the initial collection of stem cells from living animals and then greatly expanding their numbers in a bioreactor, a device for carrying out chemical processes. These living cells must be provided with nutrients in a suitable growth medium containing food-grade components that must be effective and efficient in supporting and promoting muscle cell growth. A typical growth medium contains an energy source such as glucose, synthetic amino acids, antibiotics, fetal bovine serum, horse serum and chicken embryo extract.
If cultured meat is to match or exceed the nutritional value of conventional meat products, nutrients found in meat not synthesized by muscle cells must be supplied as supplements in the culture medium. Conventional meat is a high-quality protein, meaning it has a full complement of essential amino acids. It also provides a source of several other desirable nutrients such as vitamins and minerals, and bioactive compounds.
Therefore to be nutritionally equivalent, a cultured meat medium would need to provide all of the essential amino acids, along with vitamin B12, an essential vitamin found solely in food products of animal origin. Vitamin B12 can be produced by microbes in fermentation tanks, and could be used to supplement a cultured meat product. It would also be necessary to supplement iron, an especially important nutrient for menstruating females, that is also high in beef.
The process for making cultured meat has technically challenging aspects. It includes manufacturing and purifying culture media and supplements in large quantities, expanding animal cells in a bioreactor, processing the resultant tissue into an edible product, removing and disposing of the spent media, and keeping the bioreactor clean. Each are themselves associated with their own set of costs, inputs and energy demands.
The start-to-end environmental footprint—called a life cycle assessment (LCA)—of cultured meat at large scale is not available, as no group has yet achieved this feat. Anticipatory life cycle analyses are therefore based on a range of assumptions, and vary dramatically, ranging from favorable to unfavorable comparisons to conventional meat production.
One study concluded that "in vitro biomass cultivation could require smaller quantities of agricultural inputs and land than livestock; however, those benefits could come at the expense of more intensive energy use as biological functions such as digestion and nutrient circulation are replaced by industrial equivalents."
This idea of "industrial replacement of biological functions" emphasizes the point that nature has already developed a fully functional biological fermentation bioreactor for the conversion of inedible solar-powered cellulosic material, such as grass, into high-quality protein. It is called a cow. Ruminants have evolved, along with their large vat of rumen microbes, to digest cellulose, an insoluble carbohydrate, that is the main constituent of plant cell. That is their super power.
It does comes with the trade-off that methanogenic bacteria are required to perform this conversion and they produce methane, a greenhouse gas, that is subsequently burped up (eructated) by the cow.
A comparison of greenhouse gas emissions by source. During digestion, ruminants such as cows give off methane, a powerful greenhouse gas.EPA
To keep greenhouse gas emissions from livestock in perspective, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, all of agriculture is responsible for 9 percent of GHG emissions in the U.S., and collectively animal agriculture is responsible for slightly less than 4 percent. Entirely eliminating all animals from U.S. agricultural production systems would decrease GHG emission by only 2.6 percent. By contrast, energy production for electricity and transportation are each responsible for 28 percent of U.S. greenhouse gases.
Cattle and Land Use
On a global scale, the earth's 1.5 billion cattle are found in almost all climatic zones. They have been bred for adaptations to heat, cold, humidity, extreme diet, water scarcity, mountainous terrain, dry environments and for general hardiness. More than just hamburgers, they autonomously harvest forage on marginal lands to produce 66 million tons of beef, 6.5 billion tons of milk, macro- and micronutrients, fibers, hides, skins, fertilizer and fuel; and are used for transportation, draft power, a source of income, and a form of banking for millions of smallholder farmers in developing countries. Even in developed countries, the products and ecosystem services produced by cattle extend well beyond milk and harvestable boneless meat.
Land use per unit of beef varies significantly by region. It has been estimated that globally only 2 percent of the cattle population is produced in intensive feedlot systems, with the remaining 98 percent being produced on grassland-based grazing systems, or mixed crop and livestock systems. Grass and rangelands make up 80 percent of the 2.5 billion hectares of land used for livestock production, and most of this land is considered too marginal to be convertible to cropland.
Hypothetically removing ruminants from this non-arable land would mean that 57 percent of the land currently used for livestock production would no longer contribute to global food production. This does not consider the unintended impacts of removing grazing animals, which play an important role in maintaining healthy soil and grassland ecosystems. Rain, so-called "green" water as distinct to "blue" surface and ground water, would still fall on rangelands with no cattle, but it would generate no food. And ironically, it is this green rainfall that constitutes the vast majority of beef's water footprint. Beef LCA documents large amounts of land and water, but does not reflect that rain falling on non-arable land has no alternative food production use.
Cultured meat, or whatever it ends up being called, may provide an additional source of protein to help meet projected future demands, and it may further appeal to consumers who choose not to consume conventional meat for ethical or other reasons.
However, framing cultured meat as "clean," thereby unavoidably invoking dirty as the alternative, belittles the important role that ruminants play in global ecosystems and food security. Furthermore, I believe that overplaying the role that dietary choices actually play on GHG emissions in the U.S. distracts focus from reducing the much larger source of GHG from human activities—the burning of fossil fuels for electricity, heat and transportation.
Tyson Foods Invests in 'Clean Meat’ https://t.co/OawvFDJxwk #TysonFoods @OrganicConsumer @regeneration_in @peta @foodandwater @foodtank— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1517330206.0
Dr. Alison Van Eenennaam is a cooperative extension specialist in the field of animal genomics and biotechnology in the Department of Animal Science at the University of California, Davis.
Disclosure statement: Alison Van Eenennaam does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond her academic appointment.
Reposted with permission from our media associate The Conversation.
- Missouri Passes Bill Defining 'Meat' to Exclude Plant-Based and Lab ... ›
- Can We Enjoy Meat and Seafood and Save the Planet? - EcoWatch ›
- Feeding Cows Seaweed Could Reduce Methane Emissions ›
Each product featured here has been independently selected by the writer. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.
The bright patterns and recognizable designs of Waterlust's activewear aren't just for show. In fact, they're meant to promote the conversation around sustainability and give back to the ocean science and conservation community.
Each design is paired with a research lab, nonprofit, or education organization that has high intellectual merit and the potential to move the needle in its respective field. For each product sold, Waterlust donates 10% of profits to these conservation partners.
Eye-Catching Designs Made from Recycled Plastic Bottles
waterlust.com / @abamabam
The company sells a range of eco-friendly items like leggings, rash guards, and board shorts that are made using recycled post-consumer plastic bottles. There are currently 16 causes represented by distinct marine-life patterns, from whale shark research and invasive lionfish removal to sockeye salmon monitoring and abalone restoration.
One such organization is Get Inspired, a nonprofit that specializes in ocean restoration and environmental education. Get Inspired founder, marine biologist Nancy Caruso, says supporting on-the-ground efforts is one thing that sets Waterlust apart, like their apparel line that supports Get Inspired abalone restoration programs.
"All of us [conservation partners] are doing something," Caruso said. "We're not putting up exhibits and talking about it — although that is important — we're in the field."
Waterlust not only helps its conservation partners financially so they can continue their important work. It also helps them get the word out about what they're doing, whether that's through social media spotlights, photo and video projects, or the informative note card that comes with each piece of apparel.
"They're doing their part for sure, pushing the information out across all of their channels, and I think that's what makes them so interesting," Caruso said.
And then there are the clothes, which speak for themselves.
Advocate Apparel to Start Conversations About Conservation
waterlust.com / @oceanraysphotography
Waterlust's concept of "advocate apparel" encourages people to see getting dressed every day as an opportunity to not only express their individuality and style, but also to advance the conversation around marine science. By infusing science into clothing, people can visually represent species and ecosystems in need of advocacy — something that, more often than not, leads to a teaching moment.
"When people wear Waterlust gear, it's just a matter of time before somebody asks them about the bright, funky designs," said Waterlust's CEO, Patrick Rynne. "That moment is incredibly special, because it creates an intimate opportunity for the wearer to share what they've learned with another."
The idea for the company came to Rynne when he was a Ph.D. student in marine science.
"I was surrounded by incredible people that were discovering fascinating things but noticed that often their work wasn't reaching the general public in creative and engaging ways," he said. "That seemed like a missed opportunity with big implications."
Waterlust initially focused on conventional media, like film and photography, to promote ocean science, but the team quickly realized engagement on social media didn't translate to action or even knowledge sharing offscreen.
Rynne also saw the "in one ear, out the other" issue in the classroom — if students didn't repeatedly engage with the topics they learned, they'd quickly forget them.
"We decided that if we truly wanted to achieve our goal of bringing science into people's lives and have it stick, it would need to be through a process that is frequently repeated, fun, and functional," Rynne said. "That's when we thought about clothing."
Support Marine Research and Sustainability in Style
To date, Waterlust has sold tens of thousands of pieces of apparel in over 100 countries, and the interactions its products have sparked have had clear implications for furthering science communication.
For Caruso alone, it's led to opportunities to share her abalone restoration methods with communities far and wide.
"It moves my small little world of what I'm doing here in Orange County, California, across the entire globe," she said. "That's one of the beautiful things about our partnership."
Check out all of the different eco-conscious apparel options available from Waterlust to help promote ocean conservation.
Melissa Smith is an avid writer, scuba diver, backpacker, and all-around outdoor enthusiast. She graduated from the University of Florida with degrees in journalism and sustainable studies. Before joining EcoWatch, Melissa worked as the managing editor of Scuba Diving magazine and the communications manager of The Ocean Agency, a non-profit that's featured in the Emmy award-winning documentary Chasing Coral.
By Rachel Krantz
For most of my life, I genuinely believed the false advertising used to sell dairy. When I learned the truth—that nearly all cows used for dairy are kept inside, locked up, forcibly inseminated, and hooked up to painful milking machines—I was heartbroken. How had I never put two and two together: that for humans to consume cow's milk, mother cows must have their calves taken?
I had been duped by dairy brands, whose misleading ads have never been regulated, despite truth-in-advertising laws. This discrepancy prompted a 2003 lawsuit involving the "Happy Cows" campaign, but the case was thrown out over a technicality. "The state's false advertising law simply doesn't apply to the government," explained Mercy For Animals lawyer Rachel Faulkner. The 'Happy Cow' ads were run by the California Milk Advisory Board, a marketing arm of the California Food and Agriculture Department.
It's troubling that you can't sue the government for false advertising, but the case presents another issue that needs unpacking: how the dairy industry uses advertising to sell a false narrative about the lives of cows.
Here are common myths in dairy advertising, and the truth behind them.
A disclaimer: The images of actual cows used here are from MFA undercover investigations into dairy farms. While they are not from the following brands' facilities, the images show the standard conditions and abuses at typical factory farms, where such products are manufactured.
1. The Advertisement:
1. The Reality:
Cows used for dairy do not spend their lives on open green pastures, grazing in the sun. Nearly all cows live on factory farms, which make up 99 percent of farms, and they spend their lives almost entirely indoors.
According to a recent study, fewer than 5 percent of the 10 million lactating cows in the U.S. have access to pasture during grazing season. The most common type of housing is the stanchion barn, where cows are tied up and have little freedom of movement, usually without access to natural light.
Equally heartbreaking, their young are repeatedly taken from them. Much like humans, cows naturally nurse their young for six to nine months, weaning their babies gradually. Female calves stay with their mothers for life. But on dairy farms, calves are taken within hours of birth so that their mother's milk can be consumed by humans. This is the case even at organic or local dairy farms.
These mother cows know their babies are being taken from them, and they have been known to cry for hours after the separation. Case in point: In 2013, locals in Newbury, Massachusetts, called the police because of crying they'd heard from a nearby dairy farm. Upon investigation, authorities discovered that the cries had come from mothers whose newborns had been ripped away.
2. The Advertisement:
2. The Reality:
The image of the happy cow is everywhere. "Not only do we not listen to cows, we also replace their story with one we feel comfortable with: cows want to give us their milk, they want to get pregnant and give us their calf," said Elise Desaulniers, author of Cash Cow: Ten Myths About the Dairy Industry. "A term has been coined to describe those advertising images produced to make us feel good: suicide food. Animals that are delighted to be killed, and sometimes robbed and tortured, for you."
In reality, the dairy industry forces a cow to produce around 6.5 gallons of milk per day—at least 10 times the amount she would naturally produce for her calf. As a result, cows often develop mastitis, a potentially fatal mammary gland infection. Imagine the unbearable pain of producing 10 times the milk your body naturally makes, for almost your entire life.
Cows raised for dairy are slaughtered after their milk production decreases or their bodies give out, usually around age four (under natural conditions, they could live as long as 25 years). Slaughter awaits all cows and steers, but there is arguably more suffering in a glass of milk than in a hamburger.
3. The Advertisement:
3. The Reality:
If your milk claims to be humane or ethical, beware. "There is no regulation for the word 'humane' in advertising," Faulkner said. Terms such as "natural" also aren't regulated. And "free-range" doesn't mean animals live outdoors; it just means they must have some access to grazing (and it's usually very little).
A dairy brand's use of the name "Fairlife" is both audacious and offensive. There's nothing fair about it.
4. The Advertisement:
4. The Reality:
We're told we need milk to grow up big and strong, but milk actually makes us sick. An astonishing three-quarters of people lack the enzyme to properly digest cow's milk, causing an array of digestive issues. Dairy is also linked to cancer. Studies show that one connection is through dietary hormones, especially estrogen, as dairy accounts for 60 to 80 percent of estrogens consumed by humans today.
Milk is high in estrogen even if it is labeled "hormone-free"; you can't omit the cow's naturally occurring pregnancy and lactation hormones. Low consumption of milk and other dairy products, on the other hand, is linked to significantly decreased risks of lung, breast, prostate and ovarian cancers as well as a decreased risk of Parkinson's disease.
And calcium? That's another myth we've been sold. Many nutritionists argue that dairy products are an inferior source of calcium. While we absorb about 30 percent of the calcium in milk, our absorption rate with other foods, especially kale, broccoli and bok choy, may be twice as high.
We can get all the calcium we need from plant-based foods, without the cholesterol and saturated fat in dairy products. Ironically, high consumption of cow's milk is also associated with increased risk for bone fractures, according to a recent study in the British Medical Journal. Women who consumed three or more glasses of milk per day had a 60 percent increased risk for hip fractures and a 16 percent increased risk for other fractures.
5. The Advertisement:
5. The Reality:
The dairy industry is built on the exploitation of female bodies. Cows are impregnated and their babies are taken. The argument "that's what they're designed for" is no more true than when it's used against women. No living creature wants to be used solely for her reproductive system and denied the right to motherhood, bodily autonomy and freedom.
Cows are intelligent, sensitive beings who experience pain and develop social bonds, just like we do. They hold grudges against other cows for months or years, feel joy after they solve a complex problem, and even seek out human help in anticipation of a difficult birth.
Cows' bodies, their offspring and their milk are their own. Cows don't exist for our consumption anymore than a woman's body exists for a man's pleasure. By leaving animals off our plates, we can help create a world where happy cows are more than just an advertising ploy.
By Daisy Dunne
Billed as a more environmentally friendly way to rear cattle, grass-fed beef has been the red meat of choice for many a climate-conscious carnivore.
Indeed, research has suggested that grazing cattle can help offset global warming by stimulating soil to take up more carbon from the atmosphere. This process, known as soil carbon sequestration, is one way of reducing the amount of human-induced greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.
However, a report released Tuesday by the Food Climate Research Network at the University of Oxford found that cattle fed on grass release more greenhouse gas emissions than they are able to offset through soil carbon sequestration.
This means that grass-fed beef is "in no way a climate solution," said the lead author of the report.
New Study Finds Methane Emissions From Cows 11% Higher https://t.co/dLTntNIBOz @dotearth @energyaction— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1506995407.0
Carbon from cattle
Livestock contribute to human-induced climate change by producing methane, a potent greenhouse gas. Cattle release methane through belching and passing wind, as well as in manure. Livestock also contribute to global warming indirectly through deforestation.
Overall, the livestock industry is responsible for around 15 percent of global human-caused greenhouse gas emissions. Approximately 80 percent of these emissions come directly from ruminant animals, such as cattle.
The majority of the world's cattle are "grain-fed." In most cases, this means that the animals begin life grazing in the field, before being transferred indoors to be fed on grains, such as corn and soy.
However, a growing number of livestock producers are choosing to feed their cattle on a diet purely of grass. These "grass-fed" animals spend the majority of their days grazing outside.
Though both types of cattle contribute to global greenhouse gas emissions, it has previously been suggested that grass-fed cows could have a lower carbon footprint.
This could be because grazing cattle can stimulate plant growth, which in turn leads to higher levels of soil carbon sequestration, said Dr. Tara Garnett, lead author of the new report. She told a press conference this week:
"Animals help with [carbon sequestration] by nibbling away and chomping away, which stimulates the plants to grow. That can cause the plants to put down deep roots."
This process means that more organic carbon could become fixed in the soil, Garnett said.
Chewing the fat
To understand the impact of grazed cattle, researchers from the Food Climate Research Network spent two years analyzing the available scientific research on grass-fed livestock sector emissions, as well as its potential impacts on carbon sequestration.
The researchers reported that grass-fed beef contributes very little to the global protein supply, accounting for just one gram of protein, per person, per day. In comparison, ruminants as a whole contribute 13g of protein to the global average protein intake, per person, per day.
The chart below shows how different animals and crop contribute to the average daily protein intake.
The average global protein intake derived from different animals and plants per person, per day, in grams. Garnett et al. (2017) Data Source: FAO
Despite making only a marginal contribution to global protein intake, grazed beef accounts for between a quarter and a third of all greenhouse emissions from ruminant livestock, said Garnett:
"It's worth comparing [emissions to protein intake] because grazed beef have reasonably significant emissions when compared to the amount of protein that they provide."
The researchers also analyzed the total carbon sequestration potential of the world's grasslands. They reported that, if all of this grassland were grazed on by ruminants, 20 to 60 percent of the annual emissions of grass-feed could be offset by carbon sequestration.
However, this estimate assumes that the environmental conditions are right for soil carbon sequestration to take place, Garnett added:
"It's an optimistic estimate. The climate and the rainfall conditions needs to be right [for soil carbon sequestration to take place]. If you overgraze the grassland, then you will get an annual loss of carbon from the soil."
Despite the potential impacts of soil carbon sequestration, grass-fed beef is, overall, a net contributor to carbon emissions and, therefore, a driver of human-caused global warming. Garnett said:
"This report concludes that grass-fed livestock are not a climate solution. Grazing livestock are net contributors to the climate problem, as are all livestock. Rising animal production and consumption, whatever the farming system and animal type, is causing damaging greenhouse gas release and contributing to changes in land use."
The research suggests that the best way to tackle livestock emissions is to cut global levels of meat consumption, said Garnett.
"Ultimately, if high-consuming individuals and countries want to do something positive for the climate, maintaining their current consumption levels but simply switching to grass-fed beef is not a solution. Eating less meat, of all types, is."
Reposted with permission from our media associate Carbon Brief.
Actual global methane emissions from livestock are much higher than previous estimates and could help account for the dramatic upswing in methane emissions over recent years, according to new research.
A study published last week in the journal Carbon Balance and Management updated measures used to calculate livestock methane emissions, finding that emissions in 2011 were 11 percent higher than their projected IPCC estimates.
Global methane emissions began to surge in 2007 after flattening in the early 2000s. Livestock is "not the biggest contributor to the annual methane budget in the atmosphere," lead author Julie Wolf told the Washington Post, "but it may be the biggest contributor to increases in the atmospheric budget over recent years."
Meeting Paris Goals Means Dealing with Climate Impacts of Eating Meat https://t.co/ll5ymjHzuy @Climate_Rescue @ZeroCarbonWorld— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1504351822.0
As reported by AFP:
"Methane accounted for about 16% of global greenhouse gas emissions in 2015, according to the IPCC.
Carbon dioxide—produced mainly by the burning of fossil fuels—accounts for more than three-quarters of planet-warming emissions.
'As our diets become more meat- and dairy-rich, so the hidden climate cost of our food tends to mount up,' said professor Dave Reay from the University of Edinburgh reacting to the study.
'Cows belching less methane may not be as eye-catching as wind turbines and solar panels, but they are just as vital for addressing climate change.'
For a deeper dive: