Realizing they’re powerless against America’s love affair with red meat, scientists have moved on to a battle they think is more winnable: stopping cows from carrying out the biologically necessary process of flatulence. People, no surprise, love their rib eyes and ground chuck — even multiple ties to cancer so far seem an ineffective deterrent — and despite meat consumption in the U.S. actually declining moderately for most of the last decade, a new study by the Dutch bank Rabobank has found it’s spiking again, causing a sudden binge unlike anything the country’s seen in 40 years.
This “upswing,” of course, compounds Earth’s growing methane problem (cow gas now accounts for 22 percent of U.S. methane emissions and has a “global warming impact” 25 times greater than carbon). Not sure what else to do, researchers are scrambling to cut, or at least contain, the so-called “enteric fermentation” cows put out. According to Bloomberg, Cargill — a supplier for McDonald’s and other food-world giants — has installed “domed lagoons” to capture methane released by manure as it biodegrades. Dannon tried feeding its yogurt cows flaxseeds because it believed the omega-3s could cut methane emissions by as much as 30 percent. (The plan sort of crumbled when subsequent research linked flaxseeds to decreased milk production.)
No doubt the best idea yet, at least from a purely visual standpoint, is the nifty “methane backpack” invented by the Argentina National Institute of Agricultural Technology. It basically bags up farts in a plastic container that conveniently straps onto the cow’s back. The device is said to be in “its early stages,” but the creators claim the packs can trap 300 liters of methane in one day, which is enough to power a refrigerator.