Down on the Farm

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Down on the Farm

As a counterpoint to other tales (sorry about the pun!) about global warming, here is an interesting little article I found in the September 15, 2006 issue of Private Eye magazine about other sources of methane gas. It makes you wonder if the discussion on global warming is really a balanced one.


"An Irish scientist, according to the Sunday Times in London, has discovered his country's biggest single contribution to global warming is the methane given off by the burping and farting of its cows.

Agriculture accounts for 29 percent of Ireland's greenhouse gas emissions, more than half of which emerge from the front and back ends of the animals which give us Irish beef and Kerrygold butter. And methane, as every good little greenie knows, is 20 times more effective at trapping heat in the atmosphere than CO2.

One country where this is very stale news is New Zealand, which like Ireland is mainly agricultural and which discovered some years back that its 30m sheep and 10m cows were giving off 37m tons of methane a year - more greenhouse gas than any other part of its economy. Since New Zealand, unlike its neighbors, had signed up to the Kyoto treaty, how was it to meet its commitment to curb those emissions?

Its Labour government came up with the brilliant idea of imposing a "flatulence tax" on every sheep, cow and deer in the country. Not even the islands' politicians (just as thick as our own) imagined that this would in itself persuade the animals to hold back their wind. But at least it could be pretended that the purpose of the tax was to raise £14m a year to subsidize research into ways of getting the animals to give off rather less of the noxious gas sometime in the future.

Unsurprisingly, the response was, first, a nationwide guffaw of incredulity, followed by a roar of protest from New Zealand's 130,000 farmers who immediately launched a campaign called FART (Fight Against Ridiculous Tax). Polls showed that only 12 percent of the population were "green" enough to think the "fart tax" was anything other than a bad joke. On behalf of the 84 percent opposed to the tax, farmers blocked the streets of Wellington, the capital, with 200 tractors. One MP even drove a tractor up the steps of the parliament building in protest, thus earning himself a bossy reprimand on health and safety grounds from the country's tight-lipped female prime minister, Helen Clark. A local newspaper gave out free baked beans to the demonstrators, so they could make up for all the cows and sheep which could not be present.

Until then New Zealand's farmers had been best known for the fact that, alone, in the developed world, they receive no subsidies. Since these were abolished, agriculture has become the fastest growing sector of the country's economy. Its farmers are now so efficient they can transport their lamb and butter half way round the world to Britain and still compete on price with their lavishly-subsidized EU counterparts. But, as if terrified that this gave their country the reputation of being a bastion of the free market, New Zealand's politically correct Labour ministers seemed determined to make their country the laughing stock of the farming world. At least Ireland as yet hasn't announced any plans to do the same. But the really terrifying thought, is that, when Defra works out that Britain has even more sheep and cattle than either of these countries, our own Labour government may come up with the bright idea that Britain must save the planet by following New Zealand's example."

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