Of Fish and Flatulence: An Environmentalist Dilemma

Decisions, decisions...

Not a day goes by but that the news reminds us, yet again, of the Devastation Consequences of Global Warming - well, make that "Climate Change" - and how it's All Our Fault.  Every step we make, every breath we take, we are generating more of that noted poison carbon dioxide, thus recklessly and selfishly contributing to the death of Life As We Know It.

Of course, the most commonly attacked source of so-called greenhouse gases is the energy generation, through burning coal, oil, and natural gas, that makes modern life possible.  That is why greens are sometimes accused of wanting to drive us back to the Middle Ages of pre-technology when the only carbon dioxide emissions were from wood fires and from Black Death victims exhaling their last breath.

Unfortunately, even such an unappealing solution would be insufficient, because as every Robin Hood aficionado knows, the Middle Ages were also a great era for animal life - from the King's Deer so merrily roasted by the Merry Men, to the poor widow's cow confiscated by the Sheriff of Nottingham for nonpayment of taxes.  Being ruminants, both of these beasts expel large quantities of methane, 20 times more powerful a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.

Not ones to leave targets unstoned, green activists have proposed to tax barnyard animals for their emissions just as they desire to tax cars or powerplants, an admirable if unusual consistency.  More productively, scientists have been trying to unearth a more effective and less intrusive solution to this problem.

It appears they have done so - though creating yet another environmentalist conundrum in the process.  LiveScience reports:

Including 2 percent fish oil in the diet of cattle reduces flatulence, apparently due to the omega 3 fatty acids in the oil...  "The fish oil affects the methane-producing bacteria in the rumen part of the cow's gut, leading to reduced emissions," Lillis said. "Understanding which microbial species are particularly influenced by changes in diet and relating them to methane production could bring about a more targeted approach to reducing methane emissions in animals."

So here's the plan.  Remember those ads for Beano: "Take Beano first, and there'll be-no gas"?  Apparently fish oil is Beano for cows.

One little problem: There may not be enough fish to go around.  Fish and fish oil are increasingly popular for people to eat, and recommended by many doctors.  According to research studies, however, there's a flaw in the notion:

The main problem with this advice is that, even at current levels of fish consumption, fisheries globally have reached a state of severe crisis.  Already, the demand from affluent and developing economies, particularly newly affluent China, cannot be met by the world's fisheries.

Now we should not only eat more fish ourselves, but feed them to cattle?  From whence cometh the fishes?

As so often, the devout environmentalist is faced with an irreconcilable conflict: Reduce global warming by feeding fish oil to cows to stop them farting up the atmosphere with destructive methane, and watch the fish die from overharvesting?  Or let both fish and flatulence stay as they are, with the resulting methane-induced warming, death of the polar bears, and all that?

Of course, they will make no such "false choice," as Mr. Obama might say, when there's a much more appealing solution: browbeat people to stop eating meat altogether.  When the alternatives are trying to intelligently weigh a decision and do tough scientific research, or impose intrusively on private lives, for the left it's not a tough call at all.

Kermit Frosch is a guest writer for Scragged.com.  Read other Scragged.com articles by Kermit Frosch or other articles on Environment.
Reader Comments
But if people stop eating meat all the cows will disappear, they aren't exactly known for their survival in the wild. Chickens are also not known for either their brilliance nor there survival instincts.
April 1, 2009 8:30 AM
That's what a lot of the ecos seem to want. Their favorite solution, I think, is for all people to disappear, failing that, we ought to go back to being vegetarians so we could get rid of all the methane-producing meat animals.
April 1, 2009 9:35 AM
"...all people to disappear..." - not quite, Sam. The lefties are all in favor of sustaining themselves and their lifestyles - it's just the rest of us that need to be eliminated.
April 1, 2009 10:48 AM
One had to wonder why the planet didn't broil before the white man came to the new world. The plains were covered with millions upon millions of bison. In the east there were deer, in the west there elk, and on the mountains antelope.

What do all these creatures have in common? They are ruminants, just like cattle. Of course Bison are BIG ruminants. And what do ruminants do? They spew forth methane. With all the methane being produced by these millions of creatures, how did the world ever survive?

Does that make Buffalo Bill green?

April 1, 2009 12:20 PM
Of course Buffalo Bill was a greenie, but that won't rehabilitate him for the sins of

a) being a firearms enthusiast

b) killing innocent animals. Bison are not as cute as bambi, but still.....

c) denying food to the "noble savages" who inhabited the plains at the time

Bill's sins clearly outweigh his heroics in reducing bovine flatulence, at least in the popular mind. I don't think Mr. Gore wants people to realize that a cow has a stronger greenhouse effect than a SUV; the farmers' lobby is more effective than Detroits'.
April 1, 2009 12:32 PM
As the " cheap oil era" draws to a close, and OPEC countries reduce production to increase their personal incomes, and oil creeps steadily past $50.00 a bbl, towards an OPEC promise of over $75.00 bbl, Americans will have to learn to eat pork, fish, turkey, or even kangaroo in their Big Mac's because beef takes oil to produce! SEE:
"Cattle are fed prodigious quantities of corn. At a feedlot of a mere 37,000 cows, 25 tons of corn are dumped every hour. It takes 1.2 gallons of oil to make the fertilizer used for each bushel of that corn. Before a cow is slaughtered, she will eat 25 pounds of corn a day; by the time she is slaughtered she will weigh more than 1,200 pounds. In her lifetime she will have consumed, in effect, 284 gallons of oil. Today's factory-raised cow is not a solar-powered ruminant but another fossil fuel machine." SEE: http://www.earthsave.org/environment/foodchoices.htm
The added expense of a fish oil might be replaced by adding flax into the cow's diet, since flax is oily and high in omega 3 oils in particular, but adding expenses as petroleum oil goes up in price will not likely be welcomed, especially in the harder times coming now that GM and Chrysler, and all their suppliers face certain bankruptcy! We will soon be eating artificially beef flavored cellulose burgers, fried sparingly in veggie fats, on high roughage buns (sawdust) with lots of veggies grown in humamure fed hydroponics and aquaponics installations. We never adapted well to "Fish burgers" but may be enticed to eat "Fish 'n Chips" using fish from humanure fed aquaponics units, if the price is right and we are hungry enough! The great republican depression (GRD) is warping our very lives in ways we may not adapt well to, and some of us really will die by the wayside in this class struggle the Uber-rich are winning hands down, and the "proletariat" (that's us) are losing with disastrous consequences. We are urban based slaves of "The Man" and he has deserted us for little yellow peasant ladies who toil 12 hours a day, 7 days a week, in the sweat shops of Asia, and return to their own greatest richness, the peasant farm, when burned out and broken by the capitalist machine, and they eat only rice - cheaper indeed! Just look at those huge profit margins, larger dividends! Way to Go America! Screw the World! Go Screw yourself !
April 1, 2009 1:24 PM
Drama, drama, drama... Let's just herd all the ecoradicals onto a mesa somewhere, plant trees around the edge and tell them the earth ends at the cliff walls.
April 1, 2009 1:27 PM
cowsnplows, the answer to your question is clear, but you may not like it:

Ruminants fed on grass (what all of those naturally occurring animals wandering freely on the plains would have eaten) produce a limited amount of methane. If you start feeding ruminants corn or other grains (something that they NEVER would have eaten in nature in any significant quantities) their bodies become veritable methane factories. Also, the antibiotics that people talk about feeding these cows aren't just to keep them from getting the flu; they're primarily to keep the cows from getting dangerous acidosis caused by their incorrect grain-based diet. The antibiotics kill the cow's natural stomach bacteria that get in the way of the cows eating the not-at-all-healthy-for-cows-to-eat corn that we feed them.
April 1, 2009 4:10 PM
Unfortunately dpeck, you couldn't be more wrong.

Your assertion that ruminants fed only grass produce limited amounts of methane is absurd and completely unsupportable. Fact is researchers have shown that ruminants fed only grass produce MORE methane than those fed grass plus corn In fact, significantly more, as in about 25%. You might find this article interesting -> http://www2.canada.com/ottawacitizen/news/story.html?id=6aff9f2b-8ded-4479-a89d-06955da2964d

Therefore, I believe my statement to be accurate. That is, when the buffalo roamed and the deer and antelope played, there also was a lot of methane being produced out in them thar hills. If I were a warmist, I'd wonder why whole planet didn't go under water from the melting ice caps back then.

Quite frankly, I know of no one that uses antibiotics to prevent or treat acidosis. I certainly don't with my cows.

First, lets define what is meant by acidosis. It is a drop in rumen pH caused by the ingestion of too much readily fermentable starch. In other words, the cow gets a belly ache and has a sour stomach. It can be subclinical or acute. If really bad, it can kill. Someone leaves the door to the feed room open, cow gets in, eats herself to death.

We humans get the same thing when we overeat. Especially if we overeat sugar. I can tell you from experience, eating a whole bag of gumdrops or gummy bears at one seating will give you one heck of a belly ache.

So, when we humans get a belly ache of that type, what do we do? Do we pull out the penicillin, tetracycline, and sulfa drugs? No, we dig around for some Tums, or Pepto. Or if we're real desperate, we go to the kitchen and find some baking soda. What do all these things do...they buffer the acid and bring the pH up in our stomach.

It works the same thing in cattle. Antibiotics are of no use. As you mentioned, they would kill the rumen microflora. So, what is done to prevent acidosis? Buffers are routinely fed, mostly sodium bicarbonate (baking soda). In acute cases, I prefer Magnesium Hydroxide. You know it as Milk of Magnesia.

But don't feel too bad, the guys at Sragged have got taken in too. They don't know which end of the cow the methane comes from LOL

April 3, 2009 11:19 AM
The methane doesn't come out the back?
April 3, 2009 12:15 PM
Aquaculture of fish, for the same handful of corn and some sunlight yields the veggies for a fish burger as well as the fish, and apparently uses the corn to the greatest efficiency. Apparently cattle and all four legged animals with hearts are much less efficient at getting corn to protein! With the death of GM and Chrysler announced, foreclosures everywhere, Caterpillar laying off and unemployment rising exponentially by the month, we better find a way to feed ourselves fast - the government is going broke paying fat-assed bankers huge golden parachutes and we work part-time and occasional jobs and are starting to head to tent cities - America! Wake Up! The party is over! The Chinese own us and have bought out all our jobs! We are going to starve! Soon! F**k the environment! Check the economy! and upturn is as likely as snow balls in hell for the American working class - that's you and me! The Upper-class will just import Mercedes and Audi's but we will walk and starve in shanty towns if we don't take care of ourselves. We have been deserted by the Uber-Investor Class - they put their money into the Shanghai market and Chinese producers long ago and left us, Yankee Doodle in your jeans, holding the f**kin bag! And you still scoff and look to enviro -freaks to point at? As*holes As*holes As*holes! Nobody owes you anything, get your sticks in the water and find a way to feed yourselves fast, unemployment insurance does not last long, and all the good jobs are now in China, and you, my friend , are not!
April 3, 2009 2:25 PM
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