SOURCE: Vision Media

August 24, 2010 12:17 ET

Cow Methane Gas a Health and Environmental Issue

Vision.org Addresses Myths and Truths About Bovine Methane Gas Pollution

PASADENA, CA--(Marketwire - August 24, 2010) - Increased concern from scientists and the general public about climate change and related environmental issues dominate discussions about our planet's current health. News of bovine gas adding to methane pollution may bring a smile, but cow methane gas is a serious issue to some who are concerned about environmental issues. Vision Media Life and Health writer, Alice Abler, discusses in "Bovine Methane: Just a Lot of Hot Air?" several factors that need to be considered in the debate about cow methane.

Methane gas is a volatile greenhouse gas, and cow methane may contribute as much as 18 percent of anthropogenic methane pollution. News stories on this topic sometimes take a very narrow view of cow methane pollution as a contributing factor to health and environmental issues, but Vision addresses myths and truths about bovine methane gas and takes a broad view, suggesting ways that ancient pastoral techniques may result in lower emissions.

"Most U.S. farmers keep their cattle in a central location and manage the daily eight gallons of manure per cow by hauling it to a different location, usually spreading it on other fields," says Abler. "Unfortunately, much of the urine remains behind, evaporating as ammonia or leaching into groundwater."

However, agroecologists such as Mark Powell, who is associated with the USDA-ARS, have analyzed how traditionally pastoral societies in West Africa tend their herds. "In that part of the world," writes Abler, "commercial fertilizer is expensive -- when it can be found. But Powell found that the locals have a better solution. The herdsmen position their cattle to take advantage of their natural fertilization and tilling abilities. As they graze, the cattle drop their manure and urine, and through the course of the day, their hooves trample the fresh fertilizer into the soil. This direct depositing improves the soil dramatically and can nearly double crop yields. The urine raises the soil's pH level and adds valuable micronutrients as the manure is tilled into the soil by the hooves and weight of the cattle, and the phosphorus and nitrogen from the manure is stored by the soil for use by the next crop."

Could other farmers worldwide model this low-tech method of fertilization? Perhaps fields in Western nations can be fertilized more efficiently and with less expense, while also restoring the natural digestive systems of cattle.

"Unfortunately," says Abler, "current practice does not seem to reflect the efficiency of ancient practice. Modern science shows that belching bovines, however efficient their natural fertilization methods, are adding significant levels of methane to the atmosphere."

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