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mattbrowne's avatar

Paying taxes for burping - What do you think about proposals to impose taxes on farmers who keep ruminating animals like cows and sheep?

Asked by mattbrowne (31714points) April 18th, 2009
20 responses
“Great Question” (1points)

There’s a discussion in New Zealand (and other countries) about animal “emissions” and global warming. About 90% of the methane emissions are actually caused by burping (and farting) animals.

From WSJ: Silencing the lambs? Some activists are urging consumers to stop buying meat and thus slow climate change. All of which is breathing new life into the study of sheep stomachs. Researchers have tried just about everything, from changing the animals’ diets to breeding new sheep they hope will be less gassy. They’ve concocted cocktails of clover, garlic and cottonseed oil to try to curb methane. They have even tried feeding the animals chloroform, which can stymie the production of gas if it doesn’t kill the animal. But sure as grass grows, livestock keep producing methane.

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB123561039911777481.html

http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/HL0309/S00040.htm

What do you think about the discussion? Is it simply amusing? Or has something serious to be done about it?

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Answers

laureth's avatar

If cow burps are a significant source of climate-changing gases (and they appear to be), all of the hopes and wishes of the people that like to eat them won’t make them not be so. And as silly as it sounds (c’mon, it’s a planet-ripping fart joke!), it’s serious stuff when it comes to changing weather patterns and instability.

To get to the point? Farmers are pretty borderline, economically, because they get squeezed by the food industry demanding ever-cheaper prices while they’re also getting squeezed by having to pay huge prices for tractors, Monsanto™ seeds, and other inputs. If they’d slap that tax onto the meat they sell (and hope to recoup it), people would buy less meat and go back to eating a more sustainable diet. Meat is not a birthright, but people act like it is.

Thing is, we have too many people. Most societies either eat meat, or aspire to eat more meat. Too much of anything (even cow toots) can be bad. So no matter how big of a joke it seems to be, methane is methane, whether it comes from the back end of a cow or from a landfill.

The real solution is for people to just stop consuming So! Darn! Much! of everything. But you’re not going to get that. People believe they’re special and deserving of everything that only kings and royalty had a few hundred years ago, like a meat-heavy diet. If we can’t support it, we’ll just have to figure out what to do when the climate instability comes, but hopefully the inherent barnyard humor will make up for it.

marinelife's avatar

The tax should be evenly spread to the populace not applied to farmers.

If you have not seen the movie Black Sheep, I highly recommend it. It addresses this issue in fiery way. (Also hilarious.)

sakura's avatar

How on earth can this happen its like taxing public services for the amount of rainfall that falls in any land they own (my local church was threatened with this)
I am sure there are better ways of cutting down pollution etc… and how would it be enforced? Charged per sheep? cow? how do you know which cow has produced more less??
I don’t think there is a demand on meat these days, more a demand on cutting the prices. (it’s a lot more expensive here in UK than it is iN NZ)
I suppose we need to be thinking about how we can change things in our own home first before we stat sitting in judment of the farmers who are already having it tough, just about surviving after foot and mouth etc..

dynamicduo's avatar

The burden should be put on people who EAT the meat, not the farmers who raise it in response to the demands of the people. Ultimately, farmers primarily raise these because people want to consume them, thus I cannot see how it is in any way fair that the farmer should be forced to pay an additional tax because of supplying what the people want.

As for how I think of it: I believe that if any person complaining about the emission of cows has ANY sort of negative carbon output (which I almost guarantee they do, unless they grow their own food and only use bicycles), they are hypocrites for advocating the reduction of others by force when they do not do so by choice. As with most of these issues, I really don’t care. The planet won’t die while I’m alive, and that’s really my #1 concern.

crisw's avatar

It is an extremely serious issue. It’s yet another reason that all people who truly care about the fate of this world should be attempting to cut down or eliminate their consumption of meat.

I don’t think the elimination of all domestic ruminants is necessary; after all, the world before us had plenty of ruminants. However, we keep many more than the land would hold naturally, and they consume much more feed- and thus excrete more methane.

casheroo's avatar

@crisw But how would we all go about that? Would families be only allowed to buy a certasin amount of meat a month? How could we regulate such a thing?
I do think people consume far too much meat. The excessive amount of fast food chains and the meat they use, in my opinion, is a huge problem.

hungryhungryhortence's avatar

Similar to tobacco taxes, let the consumer pay for it. I also back the opinion casheroo has about fast food restaurants. I get the feeling most people eat most of their meals, probably most of their meat products there too. If methane emissions from animals is as big of a problem to the air as from factories and plants then it should be getting more attention.

sakura's avatar

if everbody planted at least 1 tree in their garden it would help

Blondesjon's avatar

This is a ridiculous discussion. Before we decimated the population, there were more wild bison running the central plains 300 years ago than ruminating domestics in the U.S. today. To attribute their “exhalations” to global warming shows how out of control Chicken Little has become. It’s not just ruminating animals that burp and fart. We burp and fart as well. In fact, damn near every living organism on the planet passes gas in one way or another. Shall we start regulating that next?

If we do I would like to become a member of the Fart Police.

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crisw's avatar

@Blondesjon
“there were more wild bison running the central plains 300 years ago than ruminating domestics in the U.S. today. ”

Nope. The number of bison, at their peak, were 30 to 60 million. The number of cattle, goats and sheep in the US today is about 96 million beef cattle, 9 million dairy cattle 6 million sheep, and 2.5 million goats.

miasmom's avatar

And what about cows for milk and sheep for clothing? Are those part of the problem too? Should we cut out all dairy and run around naked then…I guess there is always cotton.

mattbrowne's avatar

@laureth – I think it would help if people see meat as a luxury. It’s not something people need to eat on a daily basis in large quantities (which is in fact unhealthy). Some resources have to be considered precious.

@Marina – Thanks for the tip. I will rent the DVD.

@dynamicduo – Yes, there are two ways of doing it. Taxing the products in the store is also an option.

@casheroo – It’s not about allowing. Everyone is free to do as he pleases, but the planet and the environment can no longer be for free in my opinion. If people put a strain on the environment there should be a fee which allows us to undo the damage.

@Blondesjon – I will refrain from calling this a ridiculous comment. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. @crisw already pointed out the numbers. It terms of methane production there’s a huge difference between your stomach and that of a cow. Your burps and farts are harmless. I recommend you do some scientific studying to understand the issue. I’ll give you a hint:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cellulose#Breakdown_.28cellulolysis.29

Because cellulose molecules bind strongly to each other, cellulolysis is relatively difficult compared to the break down of other polysaccharides. Mammals do not have the ability to break down cellulose directly. Some ruminants like cows and sheep contain certain symbiotic anaerobic bacteria (like Cellulomonas) in the flora of the gut wall, and these bacteria produce enzymes to break down cellulose.

@miasmom – There’s only a problem if we demand too much of everything. Does an individual need 200 shirts in his or her wardrobe? We need this discussion as millions of people just in India and China alone will join the world-wide club of middle class people and the related life style. How can we deal with this in a smart way. It’s not about running around naked.

Blondesjon's avatar

@mattbrowne…I did not mean ridiculous in a personal way. The question, and the resulting discussion, are great. I used the word in a way that was meant to convey my feelings on the subject itself not the thread. If I offended you in any way my apologies.

If the earth did not have a system for filtering the natural byproducts of it’s inhabitants than I don’t think life would have ever been possible here. The land that is cleared of trees for pasture has far more impact than bovine gas.

@crisw…In terms of gas produced that is not that large a gap.

mattbrowne's avatar

@Blondesjon – Thanks for the clarification. I’m very glad to hear that. Discussions about burps certainly do sound funny, but in the context of greenhouse gases, there are indeed serious issues related to it. You are correct. Earth got plenty of built-in systems, but many require longer periods of time to work. Then ecosystems also have a better chance to adapt. That’s the main challenge related to climate change right now. I see extreme weather only as secondary.

I think we all have little choice: (and many are not yet aware of this)

1) Very smart engineers and scientists have to use their human imagination
2) All of us 6.7 billion people have to realize that our planet won’t be able to handle all of our preferred lifestyles. Sometimes less is more. It’s still modern civilization. We can make it smarter and still enjoy life

Blondesjon's avatar

@mattbrowne…I must clarify again. I didn’t use the term ridiculous to mean, “gawrsh fellas, burps is funny.” I used it to convey my feelings that we want to regulate the amount of methane released by domesticated farm animals. Man has lived for so long outside of nature that it now seems unnatural to him. It’s a ridiculous waste of resources to put any kind of time and money into studying this. There are so many unnatural factors that effect our global climate that to put any kind of focus into regulating farts is like treating cancer with an aspirin.

mattbrowne's avatar

@Blondesjon – I accept that your view is different from mine. In my opinion we will simply have no choice but to regulate the strains human activity puts on our planet. Domestication of animals was once a very good idea. The problem is carrying something to the extreme. Greed is an extreme form of making a profit and it lead to the biggest financial crisis since the Great Depression. The way we use resources can be carried to the extreme and the ecosystem won’t be able to keep up. Earth will retaliate. Now is the time to raise awareness. Now is the time to make changes. Methane like carbon dioxide has become a major issue. We have to decide what to do about it.

laureth's avatar

Animals are natural. CAFOs are not.

crisw's avatar

@laureth

Animals are “natural,” but cramming thousands of them into a space that would normally hold only a few isn’t.

Blondesjon's avatar

@criswi think that was her point.

laureth's avatar

What @Blondesjon said.

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