In praise of less flatulence

PUBLISHED: 11:55 12 January 2007 | UPDATED: 22:30 28 May 2010

Last week s climate change squabble between Environment Minister Ian Pearson and Michael O Leary, owner of budget airline Ryanair, will have either amused or irritated you. I suppose one s reaction to their silly spat depends on where you stand in this ul

Last week's climate change squabble between Environment Minister Ian Pearson and Michael O'Leary, owner of budget airline Ryanair, will have either amused or irritated you.

I suppose one's reaction to their silly spat depends on where you stand in this ultimate of green debates - and if you enjoy seeing a pompous Government minister labelled a fool.

One thing the confrontation did not do was to make any progress in the battle to stem the causes of global warming.

But next day I came across a story to prove some people are actually trying to get to the bottom of the problem.

Research in New Zaland suggests that cows and sheep bred to be less windy could play a crucial part in the battle against climate change. Sir John Houghton, former chairman of the UN scientific panel on climate change, reckons this research is important because up to 30 per cent of global warming is caused by flatulent livestock.

He reported to a British farming conference about sheep he saw in New Zealand with bags at both ends and that tests on these animals had suggested changing their pasture could reduce methane emissions from sheep and cattle by as much as 16 per cent.

New Zealand's sheep and cattle produce about 90 per cent of the country's methane and when you realise that the average New Zealand cow produces about 90kg of methane a year, equivalent in energy to 120 litres of petrol, the situation should have sufficient gravitas to stop us tittering and realise there are numerous ways this battle can be fought - other than by politicians and businessmen trying to score irrelevant debating points off each other.

I'm sure fen farmers would be quick to promote large-scale production of biofuels as a contributor to the cause.

Biofuels may well be a way forward to be chosen by our Government, which is soon to spend £750,000 to study the problem.

In the meantime I don't suppose many of us expect to see bags attached to either end of fen sheep or cattle, or to farm animals anywhere in the country.

But what if the New Zealand trials are conclusive? Wouldn't any government want to play its part.

Time will tell. Maybe we ought to steel ourselves against the possibility of seeing some strange-looking creatures as we travel around this island of ours.

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