Feed Bites

Are Cow Bubbles Something from SciFi?

Written by: Sarah Novak   |   January 22, 2020

Dairy, Environmental footprint

Cow bubbles - sounds like something out of science fiction, right? Wrong! Cow bubbles are not fiction nor are they from the future – they are currently helping our industry fight against misinformation on the environmental impact of cows.

Cows are unfairly getting a bad rap in mainstream news these days. Schools implementing Meatless Monday’s to save the planet and the Golden Globes serving a meatless meal (don’t get me started on the impact that all of the limos, private planes and the Moët & Chandon - which was imported from France - had on the environment) are just a couple examples out of many that demonstrate how people think eating less meat will be good for the environment.

Misinformation on how much gas cows emit are fueling these claims against cows. These headlines only highlight the need for solid, fact-based research on the true impact agriculture, and in this case cattle, has on the environment. Thankfully, there is a way to find out just how much methane and other greenhouse gases are really emitted by cattle. This is where the cow bubbles come in.

Cow bubbles are sealed off greenhouse-like structures that measure emissions from the cows inside, usually housing about eight cows at a time for set period of time. The bubbles are made to mirror the conditions of a typical feedlot and include high-tech machines that measure the input (food) and output (urine, feces, burps) of the cows.

Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to see the only cow bubbles in the United States at the University of California, Davis farm research facility.

The brain behind the bubbles, Dr. Frank Mitloehner, or as he’s known on Twitter, @GHGGuru, is a professor and air quality specialist at UC Davis who conducts research in air quality and emissions.

Dr. Mitloehner has discovered through the use of the bubbles that cows really don’t contribute as much greenhouse gases to the atmosphere as people think. Cows and other ruminants account for only 3.9% of all greenhouse gases produced in the United States (all of U.S. agriculture is 9%). Compare that to the 28.9% that the transportation industry contributes and it shows that meat really isn’t the big offender here. Perhaps the Golden Globe attendees should have carpooled to the event rather than take meat off the menu.

Dr. Mitloehner recently took his work a step further and launched the CLEAR Center at UC Davis. The CLEAR Center, or Clarity and Leadership for Environmental Awareness and Research, is an amazing research center at UC Davis that is focused on “Cattle and Climate Change – making cattle even more sustainable in the face of a changing climate.”

The CLEAR Center has both research and communication components to it. This is very exciting because not only will it have top-notch objective research from Dr. Mitloehner and other researchers, once the data is available, a group of professionals will work to get the information out in front of government policy makers, thought-leaders and key influencers, so that government and company policies being set in the future are based on solid, science-based facts.

How can you help debunk the misinformation on cows and climate change? If you are on twitter, be sure to follow Dr. Mitloehner. He also has a great blog, where he discusses the hot topic of the day, from EAT-Lancet’s environmental claims being an epic fail to a response to The New Yorker’s article on how four pounds of beef doesn’t equal the emissions of a transatlantic flight. These blogs provide great information you can share with your friends and family.

From cow bubbles to the new CLEAR Center – we are working hard to clean out these unfair myths that target cows and meat as the big, bad guy. New headlines in the future should be based on one thing - solid, science-based facts.




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