Foods that can save the world: Milk and the danger of cow burps.

Milk is an innocuous little drink, we have it in our tea and is often considered an essential part of breakfast. But milk has a surprising cost. Most milk comes from cows and goats, and as you may have heard, cow farts contribute to climate change, but do you know why?

mark littlejohn on Instagram: “The Cows . . They have a bit of a menacing  air at times the way they run across to you. Hence the … | Black and white,  Instagram, Air
Figure 1. The hidden emissions of cows

The reason why cows get the blame among farm animals for causing climate change – as opposed to pigs – is that cows are ruminants. They, along with sheep and goats, have special stomachs with multiple chambers, allowing them to eat hard to digest foods like grass. A byproduct of this clever system is that ruminants create much more methane than most grass eaters like horses. This methane actually comes out as burps, not farts, that’s a misconception. But regardless of which end it comes out of, methane is a greenhouse gas. So how much greenhouse gas are we talking about?

Figure 2. A cow’s four chambered stomach

The average dairy cow eats over 70,000 kcal per day – about thirty times as much as you probably do. They need to eat this much not only because they’re much larger than a human, but also because producing milk takes a huge amount of energy, and a dairy cow can produce 16 liters (17 quarts) of milk. Cows use about 5% of the calories they consume to produce methane gas, but in addition to their burps, they also produce methane gas from their droppings.

We’ve done the sums for you. On average, over their life time, a cow will produce 2g of methane per 1g of milk they produce. That means that cows primarily produce methane, milk comes second. That doesn’t include emissions that comes from transportation or packaging.

That’s a useful sum, because that means you know how much methane gas was produced to create the milk you put in your tea. Simply multiply the weight of the milk by two.

Figure 3. What are the carbon emissions of a cup of tea?
Figure 4. The carbon emissions of a latte.

How can you reduce emissions?

So what are the alternative options? Plant-based milk alternative have become increasingly popular and available on store selves in recent years: soy, almond, coconut rice, oat, cashew, macadamia, hemp… light, no added sugar, organic, fresh, long-life… the range is overwhelming. These plant options don’t produce methane, but greenhouses gases can still be created via their transportation, packaging and refrigeration. So how do these plant emissions compare to cow milk?

Well, on average for every 1g of plant milk, 0.8g of emissions are created. That’s less than half of the amount produced by cows!

If you’re now interested in making changes to reduce your consumption of dairy milk, then congratulations! By including plant alternatives to milk in your diet, you not only reduce the quantity of your carbon emissions but you also open up your palate to choosing new delicious environmentally friendly options.

You can read more about how to change your diet to save the planet in ‘Food and Climate Change Without The Hot Air’, available for purchase as a paperback where all good books are sold, or you could buy the ebook for £/$ 0.00 (yes, really nothing to pay.) Get the Kindle ebook here and the EPUB here.

Watch out for our our forthcoming blog post all about more almond milk and how it compares to dairy milk when it comes to protecting the planet.

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