Saturday, July 14, 2007
An Inconvenient Burp
There is a game called word association. You suggest a word and someone else comes up with a scenario.
For example, "Fireworks" immediately suggests Divali, and "hybrid" immediately suggests the Toyota Prius (or any of the new intelligent cars) . Time was when the word "hybrid" probably elicited a response of "some special variety of rice" . Someone mouthing the word "environment" would have had an entire population of educated folks suggesting how to go about saving it.
In the good old days, if you mentioned the word "cow", the first thing that came to mind was probably milk, and then one probably imagined scenarios where Jersey and other cows meandered through green and sylvan woods and meadows, chewing a bit here , ruminating a bit there, licking their calf clean during a break in the proceedings , and just to lighten the situation, generating a wonderful "moo".
Today, in the days of "Inconvenient Truths", cows have suddenly become inconvenient.
Believe it or not, but the problem lies in the fact that cows burp . It's certainly not a new phenomenon, cows have been burping ever since they existed, irrespective of the part of the world they came from, and what they ate and drank.
The culprit is methane, a greenhouse gas, which contributes to global warming.
Apparently, one of the biggest source of methane is the burping of the cow. A single cow, is supposed to be burping, 280 litres of methane gas every day. In case this boggles the mind, this is the equivalent of 140 two litre bottles of any soft drink filled with methane gas, being generated every day.
Now, cow dung, as we all know, also contains methane, but it is possible to harness that and generate fuel to aid in running farmland and even small village setups . Capturing and storing the burping methane is a dicey proposition, almost next to impossible, and so every year , the United Cows of America generate 6 million metric tons of
methane that, freely escapes and is supposed to contribute towards global warming.....
Of course, world wide, there are , besides cows , several other animals like sheep, goats,camels and others that burp too. I am sure all the animals in the National Parks and Safari Parks also burp to their heart's content. Some one has actually estimated the worldwide methane generation from these poor , unsuspecting animals to be 80 million metric tons.
And why do we get so excited about this ? It is because the methane molecule is 21 times better at trapping heat than the carbon dioxide molecule.
So now that automakers have faced their share of pollution and global warming related inconvenient truths, researchers have narrowed in, on the poor cows.
Before we humans got into the act analysing the milk production, and fiddling around with levels of fat and other things, cows the world over, were basically used in farms for milk, and ploughing the fields, and even in various indigenous oil mills in third world countries. They were taken to graze daily by the farmer's young children, and they wandered about through pastures and hilly terrain, getting their natural exercise as well as eating choice varieties of greenery. Sometimes the venues varied, and so, things were kept interesting for the cows. Wonderful novels and poetry were written visualising cows coming home to rest at sundown, trudging back with the herd, kicking up the dust , as the farmer sat in the compound , resting after a hard day at work, waiting with the evening meals , for everyone , including the animals.
Then , we humans got greedy . (So what's new ? We shouldn't be surprised at all.) Ploughing was now done by tractors, oil mills were mechanised, milk and milk products were in great demand across the world, and scientists started to figure out what to medicate the cows with so that milk production would increase. The poor cows were fed with hormones and antibiotics and experiments were done to see what worked best. Milk production increased. Television started showing advertisements about how milk was so wonderful a drink. Various celebrities , who probably actually preferred the tippling variety of drinks, got paid to do advertisements showing milk mustaches.
Today, health problems in humans have been associated with estrogen like compounds that exist in our milk, thanks to all the stuff the cows were medicated with. There is a hue and cry about that , papers are published, fingers get pointed, and , of course ,no one really worries about the poor cows.
Now some German scientists have come up with a wonder pill to reduce the cows burps. Not a coincidence in a country where meat eating is the relished norm. Dr. Winfried Drochner, professor of animal nutrition, leads the "ground-breaking" project at the University of Hohenheim in Stuttgart. The professor says "Our aim is to increase the well being of the cow, to reduce the greenhouse gases produced and to increase agricultural production all at once. It is an effective way of fighting global warming."
(How simply amazing ...I am speechless)
The idea is to introduce a fist-sized plant-based pill, known as a bolus, combined with a special diet and strict feeding times, and this would lead to reduction in the methane produced by cows, by trapping some of the energy from the methane, which is naturally produced in the fermentation process when a cow digests grass.
The professor would like to use the pill to boost the cow's metabolism. The cows could then use the methane to produce glucose , instead of wasting it as a burp. Supposedly, this would enhance the cows milk production. And, unlike humans, who take several pills everyday, the cow would be given this bolus pill, say once a month.
Now the mind really boggles.
Just imagine an entire herd of super energetic cows , all clean smelling, no burps. And all those people who eat beef with great relish, with get that extra dollop of glucose as well. Then someone from the National Institutes of Health will do research on why so many cows are showing signs of diabetes, supposedly a disease of rich people.
Some opportunistic multinational pharmaceuticals that make veterinary medicine will make a killing in the bovine diabetes market. Special types of cow insulin will enter the market.
Since glucose metabolism in the body is connected to how well the protein tryptophan is available to the brain to make the hormone serotonin, and very soon, we will then see examples of bipolar cows, depressed cows , and panicking cows, just to name a few. Harvard and UCLA will lead in designing special psychological treatments for the bovine variety, with University of California at Davis probably beating them to it, due to their superior agricultural qualification and understanding of cows.
All of a sudden, the cows that happily gambolled with their calves in meadows will indicate pains in their limbs. Earlier, if you poked them in their feet, you probably stood in line for the biggest kick on your face, with a lash from the tail thrown in. Now, the poor cow probably will not feel the poke in the first place, thanks to its Neuro-"pathetic" legs...
And this is just cows. Once this bolus thing is made applicable to all animals that pass methane as a burp, say, above a certain quantity per day, you will have an entirely new set of diseases that veterinary doctors can look forward too. I am not current on insurance for veterinary medical treatments, but things are certainly going to get complicated for the poor animals, with, insurance companies defining what treatment they can get.
What about all the humans who will consume the beef ? Ten years from now will some university do research on the rising levels of genetic defects in humans and cows ? Will Trader Joe's then come up with non bolus fillet-Mignon cuts ?
Now that our weather has started going haywire, and global warming appears to have something to do with it, why do we consistently ignore the rising number of automobiles on the road spewing forth their contribution to global warming ? Why are gas guzzling monstrosities not uniformly banned across the nation ? Is this sudden attention to cows and other bovine varieties a ploy to deflect attention from humans addicted to over consumption ?
We need to remember that unlike us, cows and other animals maintain their own balance vis-a-vis nature. They fertilise the same meadows they graze on. Unlike us humans , they live in harmony with other livestock, bravely facing up to Darwin's principles whenever natural selection demands. Cows have NOT polluted the environment with plastics and fluorocarbons. Whatever they produce is recyclable.
The topic of burping cows and methane has now also got school children thinking. Being driven to school in family size cars (not filled with family), tickled pink whenever they got to use the carpool lane , say 4 tims a month, thinking up topics for their lesson on environment, for a project in Chemistry, someone had a query about Boyle's law.
Boyle's law states that for an "ideal gas" , the product of its pressure and volume is always a constant.
Don't know if the methane in the cow's gut is ideal or not, but with the increase in pressure of methane in the body, with burps not allowed, according to Boyle, an exploding cow is now a reality......
(Time for more research on "A Statistical study on incidences of explosions (or is it implosions) of burping cows, (amongst those that were subject to the Bolus treatment between the ages of 1-6 years......) and their correlation with the automobile density in Los Angeles , Texas , Detroit and New York.")