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Burger King’s “breathe the farts of change” Campaign Doesn’t Pass the Sniff Test

By   /  July 20, 2020  /  2 Comments

Does lemongrass solve the cattle methane problem? Dr. Frank Mitloehner, UC-Davis professor and extension specialist, is known for challenging the FAO’s numbers on cattle and climate change and getting them to change. Here he tells us what’s up with Burger King’s newest ad campaign.

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Thanks to Dr. Frank Mitloehner for allowing On Pasture to share this post. Please visit the CLEAR Center for more on the relationship between livestock and climate.

Video still from Burger King video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x6xDv8RX87A

 

Hold the pickle, hold the lettuce, hold the methane?

A new communication campaign from Burger King is promising beef that comes from cows that are 33 percent less gassy on average, allowing the international fast-food chain’s consumers to have it their way without guilt.

Burger King, which is part of Restaurant Brands International, has been adding lemongrass to cows’ diets in an attempt to cut down on cattle’s methane emissions. Given the greenhouse gas’ role in global warming, it’s a big deal. If nothing else, decreasing methane would buy us time to try and get a handle on carbon dioxide emissions, the No. 1 elephant in the room – and in the atmosphere.

According to Burger King, cattle that consume the modified diet produce up to one-third less methane than cows that eat a more traditional diet. “ … We found that by adding 100 grams of dried lemongrass leaves to the cows’ daily feed, we were able to see a reduction of up to 33% on average of methane emissions during the period the diet was fed (the last three-to-four months of the cow’s life in the case of our research),” the website states.

It’s a noble pursuit, and such results would definitely be welcome, but has Burger King jumped the gun?

For starters, the research hasn’t gone through the rigorous and important step of peer review. In simple terms, that’s when scientific research is written up, checked, and challenged or confirmed by experts in the field. Again, according to Burger King’s website, “Full scientific paper under review by peer reviewed scientific journal. Full research will be made available once published.”

Professor Ermias Kebreab is conduction research with twelve dairy cows to find out if seaweed will reduce methane emissions from cow on May 8, 2018. Adding seaweed reduced the methane imission by fifity percent. (Photo by Gregory Urquiaga / UC Davis)

 

Burger King officials have been working partly with my colleague Dr. Ermias Kebreab from the University of California, Davis. He was chosen to head up the U.S. component of the study, announcing publicly on Twitter that his research was inconclusive and so far showed no methane reduction from lemongrass. Evidently the 33 percent result comes from the Mexican arm of the study. Incidentally, that doesn’t mean scientists there are or are not on to something. It simply means it’s too early to say.

Burger King isn’t the first to hypothesize that diet could play a role in ruminant animals’ methane emissions. In fact, we’re working with essential oils in my lab, where we’re seeing a resulting methane reduction of 10 percent. Professor Kebreab’s work is likewise encouraging. His lab saw a large methane reduction with a seaweed additive (26 and 67 percent).

It would be thrilling to see a 33 percent reduction from lemongrass, but we need to see the work before we jump on the bandwagon and claim victory. Premature results – if flawed – threaten to further confuse consumers and jeopardize other important work taking place in the field.

And even if by some stroke of brilliance, luck or both, lemongrass is our savior, Burger King’s campaign – including its catchy video – is misguided.

Cow flatulence might be humorous to humans, but it’s not the problem. Nearly all enteric emissions come from the front end of a cow, in the form of burps. Overall, 60 percent come from belching and 40 percent manure. Not only is it factually inaccurate to suggest otherwise, it’s a bit juvenile. OK, a lot juvenile.

That part Burger King seems to get. Its video features the famous yodeling kid in Western gear strumming a guitar and singing a scatological song while coming through the rear end of a cow. Others join in. The headline reads: “Breathe the farts of change.”

Like so many in our field, I eagerly await more information. In the meantime, we’ll keep enduring poot puns from people who need to know that as funny as farts can be, climate change is no laughing matter.

See the post at the CLEAR Center’s site. Stay tuned for next week, when we’ll take a new look at methane, and how cattle can help lower temperatures in a warming climate

Want More?

Here’s more about Dr. Mitloehner’s work:

Cattle Aren’t Climate Change Criminals

Can We Eat Our Way Out of Climate Change?

 

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About the author

Dr. Frank Mitloehner is a professor and air quality specialist in cooperative extension in the Department of Animal Science at the University of California, Davis. Frank is committed to making a difference for generations to come. He is passionate about understanding and mitigating air emissions from livestock operations, as well as studying the implications of these emissions on the health of farm workers and neighboring communities. In addition, he is focusing on the food production challenge that will become a global issue as the world’s population grows to nearly 10 billion by 2050. Frank is also director of the CLEAR Center, which has two cores – research and communications. The CLEAR Center brings clarity to the intersection of animal agriculture and the environment, helping our global community understand the environmental and human health impacts of livestock, so we can make informed decisions about the foods we eat and while reducing environmental impacts. Frank received a Master of Science degree in animal science and agricultural engineering from the University of Leipzig, Germany, and a doctoral degree in animal science from Texas Tech University. Frank was recruited by UC Davis in 2002, to fill its first-ever position focusing on the relationship between livestock and air quality.

2 Comments

  1. Patrick Wentworth says:

    Methane only lingers in the atmosphere for 10 years. So if herds are not increased in size in a ten year period, there can be no increase, correct? And how long does CO2 linger? 100 years? Seems like the automobile is the problem in one worries about “man caused climate change.”

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