And now a special report on my favorite topic: burps and poo. In a country with more cattle than people (there are 50 to 55 million cows in the Argentina, versus about 40 million Argentines) one of the country’s main environmental issues is methane (CH4) emissions from the livestock industry. Although the energy industry is the largest single source of emissions of CO2 into the earth’s atmosphere (globally, 38%), Argentina’s main contribution to global warming is caused by livestock indigestion.
Latin America, namely via the livestock industries of Brazil and Argentina, generates 12% of the world’s human-produced CH4, which makes it regionally second only to Asia as a CH4 polluter. This chemical is 25 times worse as a greenhouse gas than carbon. In Argentina, livestock contribute to 67% of all of national CH4 gas emissions. Namely, this is through ‘enteric fermentation’ or in layman’s terms, burps. 85% of these burps come from cows, who release the gas that builds up when they breakdown plant cellulose. The same beef and pork that renders Argentines full of national pride belches 44 billion litres of CH4 per day. Argentina ranks 14th in the world (1 worst, 186 best) as a CH4 polluter and per capita, pollutes more than China, India, Brazil, or any of the top ten polluters.
Does this mean that Argentines should lay off the beef and consume food whose production emits less greenhouse gases? I do not think that would be a culturally sensitive or a reasonable solution to Argentina’s methane problem. No Argentine I know is about to give up their daily milanesa sandwich or weekend asado in the name of environmentalism, although it is worth mentioning that vegetarianism is indeed on the rise, with more trendy health food restaurants popping up around the city every month. If we presume that meat consumption is not going to change considerably in the near future, it seems imperative to think about how Argentina could best cultivate that meat in an environmentally responsible manner.
Luckily, there are remedies to cow indigestion. Most simply and preventatively, serving cow livestock alfalfa grasses, which are easy for them to digest, reduces their belching in the first place.
Methane to Markets, an international non-governmental organisation that advocates for cost-effective, near-term methane recovery and use as a clean energy source, has partnered with the National Institute of Agricultural Technology (INTA) to install a methane recovery system on a dairy farm in Santa Fe Province. The Rafaela dairy operation has a livestock population of approximately 250 dairy cows. The current waste management method involves water hosing and solids separation into poo lagoons. The proposed methane recovery system is a plug flow digester that would capture the manure, heat it, and turn burn the resulting methane to create electricity. The system will reduce emissions by 42 metric tonnes of CO2 equivalent per year.
Such a system comes at a steep price-about US$36,000 for the plug flow digester on the Rafaela farm- but in order for Argentine leadership to take its environmental responsibility seriously it should consider supporting more such projects. If Argentines are not going to consider consuming considerably less meat (and I don’t necessarily think they should as my general culinary philosophy is continue doing what you do best and Argentines do indeed do meat best), I think they should begin investing in more widespread methane reduction and capture techniques and technologies.