How and why researchers bagged $200k to study cow farts

How and why researchers bagged $200k to study cow farts

CultureMay 17, 2018 By Will Brendza

Human civilization is facing the greatest existential threat in its long and accomplished history: cow farts.

That's right, gassy bovine butts are holding a metaphorical gun against our species’ head, their tails on the trigger. And unless a solution to this strange and terrible terror is found, and quickly, we may be staring into an ugly future.

That’s why, in a preemptive move, the California Department of Food and Agriculture just gave a group of researchers from the California Dairy Research Program and UC Davis $213,349. It wants the problem of cow farts to be solved before it’s too late — before our species tips over the brink of history and into the ether of non-existence, leaving this planet an empty and gassy place.

Let’s take a step back, though, to understand why exactly our existence hinges on the bowel belches of our bovine brothers. Otherwise, none of this is going to make any sense at all.

Cow farts, and the farts of all livestock generally, produce methane. Methane smells bad, kind of like rotten eggs. But, worse than that, it's also an insanely powerful greenhouse gas. Compared to carbon dioxide (car farts), methane traps 30  times more heat in our atmosphere. Our livestock is Dutch-ovening the planet and if something isn’t done about it, Earth’s oceans will rise up and swallow our cities; the sky will starve the land of water in places that were once lush and full of life; hurricanes and tornadoes will rip apart whatever’s left and any survivors will surely be devoured alive by roaming packs of starving wolves.

These things happen. One day, you’re running the show, the next, the show is running you. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Which is exactly why these scientists were funded almost a quarter-million and tasked with answering the grand question: how do we mitigate this threat? How do you put a lid on cow farts?

Sadly, livestock butt plugs and floating fart vacuums are out of the question. And, realistically, ending the meat industry in some kind of sweeping ban on factory farming is just as ridiculous. The People love their meat ... and may they spare mercy on any poor soul who tries to take it away from them.

Dark as this situation seems, there is at least one solution. But, chances are, if you enjoy eating beef or pork or chicken you aren’t going to like it.

Cultured meat (aka synthetic or “test tube” meat). It’s essentially lab grown animal tissue and it might just be the answer to this befuddling methane problem. Because, quite simply, if producers can grow steaks in test tubes, it negates the need for cows entirely. And without cows, cow farts become a thing of the past.

There are a couple of prominent challenges with this solution, though. First and foremost, no red-blooded American meat eater’s going to buy steak that some college educated, lab-coat-wearing academic grew in a sterile setting. Selling that stuff is going to take a stroke of marketing genius. And second, we just don’t know what this stuff will do to a person who eats a lot of it over a long period of time — the data isn’t in yet. Could be harmless. Could cause meat cancer. It’s a roll of the dice.

Which, puts humanity in a weird spot. Our future hangs in the balance because too many cows are farting too much, and the only salvation we know of is faux-flesh. It’s a fork in the road no generation before ours has had to navigate. But, lucky for the world, with their newly acquired funds, researchers are going to help to do exactly that. And maybe, just maybe, we won’t have to resort to fake beef and chicken.

At least, that’s the hope.

[cover photo DominikSchraudolf via Pixabay]