Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 21/10/2017 (245 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
As you can probably imagine, I am feeling pretty sheepish about this whole cow controversy.
I am referring here to the big blowback from a recent column wherein I cited news reports stating cows pose a threat to the planet because they pump a lot of methane into the atmosphere via their flatulence and, especially, their belches.
According to these reports, a group of award-winning scientists think it would be possible through selective breeding to produce gas-free cattle, because a cow’s genetic makeup plays a huge role in determining what microbes are found in its gut and, therefore, the amount of greenhouse gas they release into the air.
Q: Doug, would it be fair to say that in this column you made a lot of stupid jokes about cows farting?
A: Yes, and I am deeply ashamed of giving in to my barnyard instincts.
The thing is, it is difficult and expensive to determine how much gas a standard cow gives off from either end, as the process involves putting them in high-tech airtight chambers to analyze their (ahem) "outgassing."
The scientific focus of my column was that I was willing, for a small fee, to allow my wife to help out in this vital work, because her super-sensitive nostrils are able to detect methane particles at the molecular level, especially if I happen to be in the den watching sports highlights on our big-screen TV and eating bean dip directly from the container.
Surprisingly, my wife was not offended by this column in the least, but a major Manitoba lobby group was not at all amused by my so-called sense of humour.
What I am trying to say is that Manitoba Beef Producers wrote me a long letter making the central point that I am a bit of a doofus.
Q: Doug, are you trying to say they had a beef with you?
A: Yes, that is a fair assessment.
Q: Did you read this letter to your buddy, the comedian Big Daddy Tazz?
A: Yes, I did.
Q: What did he say?
A: He said I should tell the beef producers that, quote, "to err is human, but to forgive is bovine."
In his letter, which was extremely polite and informative, Brian Lemon, general manager of the beef producers, sympathized with my wife for putting up with my personal emissions, but complained I had done a disservice to Manitoba’s hard-working beef producers.
"The myth of our cattle’s burping and farting is exactly this — a myth," Lemon wrote. "While there is no doubting that cattle do burp and fart, you are contributing to a myth that costs the beef sector millions of dollars to defend. The truth is that in Canada, GHG emissions from cattle contribute only 2.4 per cent to Canada’s total GHG emissions.
"By comparison, transportation contributes 28 per cent of the total GHG emissions in Canada. Furthermore, Canadian beef has one of the lowest GHG footprints in the world at 11.4 kg CO2 equivalent per kg of live cattle weight, less than half of the world average."
Lemon signed off with this breezy tidbit: "Before blowing off more hot gas, I would ask that you inform yourself and understand how your joke can do damage to an industry that is working hard to do the right thing."
Well, I would like the beef producers to know that no one in this province appreciates them more than I do, because cows are directly responsible for the things I love most, namely juicy steaks, juicy cheeseburgers and chocolate milkshakes.
More importantly, I have just become aware that, when it comes to greenhouse gas, cows are far from the only culprit. Based on news reports I am holding in my hand, we need to point an accusing finger at (insert dramatic pause here) the world’s shellfish population.
Q: Are you trying to suggest that clams and oysters belch and fart?
A: Yes, now you are letting some fresh air in on this issue, if you catch my fragrant drift.
According to a shocking story in the British newspaper the Guardian, shellfish are blowing a lot of greenhouse gas into the atmosphere, though they still lag behind cows in this aromatic area.
"Swedish scientists have found that flatulent shellfish are creating vast amounts of greenhouse gases, leading to a predictable slew of comments about farting cockles and clams," the Guardian reported. "But beneath the schoolboy humour, there is a serious point.
"The two gases in question — methane and nitrous oxide — are potent agents of climate change… Scientists studying the Baltic Sea off the coast of Sweden have found that shellfish are producing one-tenth of all the greenhouse gases released there — the equivalent to the amount produced by 20,000 cattle. If the same situation is being replicated around the rest of the world’s seas and oceans, we have a serious problem."
Here’s what Stockholm University scientist Stafano Bonaglia told the paper: "It sounds funny, but small animals in the seafloor may act like cows in a stable, both groups being important contributors of methane due to the bacteria in their gut."
Which, as my pal Tazz pointed out, explains why we see so many bubbles rising up from the ocean floor.
On a personal level, I feel guilty for giving innocent cows a bum rap when gassy clams and oysters obviously deserve their share of blame. We can only imagine how serious the problem will become if those little guys ever screw up the courage to come out of their shells.
Doug Speirs’ humour column, In the Doug House, has appeared on Page 2 of the Winnipeg Free Press at least three times a week since 2006. No one is exactly sure why.