Did you know that in December 2009, the US Department of Agriculture and the Innovation Center for US Dairy announced that they would work with the dairy industry to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 25% by 2020? Haven’t made your radar screen yet? Okay, but let’s look at why it’s important and what some of the companies you might buy products from are doing to support this initiative. Everyone must do their part to reduce their carbon footprint; every industry, business sector, organization and individual must be part of the solution. According to the Innovation Centre, the dairy sector looks at everything from how dairy products are transported to what feed crops the cows get. If the dairy industry can meet its 2020 goal, it would be the equivalent of taking 1.25 million cars off American roads each year; not an insignificant number!

In the US, the dairy industry accounts for 2% of total greenhouse gases and the agricultural sector in total for around 7%. In language your 10-year-old will understand, a serious concern being raised at both government and industry levels is cow “burps”; but also, let’s say it out loud, cow “foot”. What does this have to do with climate change, you might be thinking? The emissions produced by “enteric fermentation,” a fancy way of describing part of the digestive process in animals like cows, are primarily “methane” gas emissions. Methane gas is a significant greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change. There are two issues regarding US agricultural methane production here:

1. many of our large factory farms actually have methane “lakes” for manure storage, and
2. lack of consideration for the type of forage crops animals get, which can have a big impact on “burps!”

We will focus on the “burps”, which according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization account for 90% of enteric fermentation in cows.

Last year, Vermont-based Stonyfield Farms launched a program with its dairy farmers to change the feed their cows receive, “while reducing greenhouse gas emissions and improving milk’s nutritional content in a way that may help reduce cardiovascular disease and obesity,” according to Gary Hirshberg, president of Stoneyfield Farms. The program introduces a diet of alfalfa, flax and grass to the cows, all high in natural omega-3 sources; which results in….less cures! During the first 6 months of the program, curaping decreased between 13 and 18%. A by-product for the farmers has also been healthier cows and lower veterinary bills!

Climate change 101 fact: Methane gas is 23 times more powerful a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide!

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