Hoof to Plate, a New Effort to Cut Emissions

Manure, Methane, and Efficient Food Production

by Hailey Alfred, age 18

Scientists are cooking up some new renewable energy ideas in efforts to cut methane emissions.

Animals, especially livestock, produce a greenhouse gas called methane. This gas traps heat with 25 times the efficiency of carbon dioxide. The trillions of farm animals around the world generate 18 percent of the emissions that are contributing to the rising of global temperatures. These emissions increase with the growing worldwide demand for meat.

Scientists believe that while the current global economic downturn may slow the world’s appetite for meat, it will not reverse the trend of consumption enough to substantially reduce methane emissions. In addition to the emissions that livestock create, every step of processing meat creates more emissions.

Environmentally conscious countries, such as the Netherlands, Denmark, Germany, and New Zealand, with large livestock populations have begun experimenting with solutions.

In Sterksel, Netherlands, farmers turned scientists are cooking manure from 3,000 pigs to capture the methane that is trapped within it. When the methane is captured, the gas is used to make electricity for the local power grid. The left over “mineral slurry” is used as fertilizer, which helps to reduce the use of chemical fertilizers. This also saves $190,000 annually in disposal fees.

The Sterksel project is a start, scientists say, but more needs to be done about methane emissions.

Along with recycling pig manure, scientists have come up with several other ideas to cut the methane emissions. These include producing feed that will cause cows to give off less methane.

Another step toward decreasing methane emissions is the new labeling system that Sweden is starting this year. These labels show the amount of gas emitted in the production of that meat. For example, the production of beef creates 11 times as much greenhouse gas emissions as a pound of chicken.

The list of new ideas continues to grow. Farmers in Denmark now inject their manure under the soil. This enhances fertilization. It also reduces the odor, and prevents methane emissions from escaping.

All over Europe, scientists are cutting back methane emissions and improving our environmental situation. Some scientists say the United States should begin its own, similar research. According to them a more efficient and environmentally friendly food production system would be the result.

[Source; The New York Times]