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Agriculture This Week: Will cows become the scapegoat for climate change?

Demonizing the cow is not reasonable.
4-H regional show july 6 5
Cattle are not the problem some think they are. (Fie Photo)

YORKTON - When you have been involved with fairs and exhibitions as long as I have -- roughly 20 years showing stock and now roughly 35 as a journalist -- you have seen a lot of beef on the hoof.

I was reminded of that this past week as I attended the Yorkton Regional 4-H Show that was part of the local summer fair.

There is always something nostalgic for me in attending livestock shows. I was not a 4-H member as a youth but I was in the show ring at age five, so I have an appreciation for the work associated with exhibiting stock, and with the exhilaration of a red ribbon, and the disappointment when your animal does not catch the judge’s eye.

But, this year the show generated a different feeling, one where I found myself wondering what the fate of such shows may be, and in fact what will the fate of cattle production be.

Shows, especially smaller ones, may eventually face new rules relating to tracing cattle movements that will mean book work and red tape and extra hours for volunteers – and we all know finding volunteers seems to be an ever-increasing struggle of its own. Some exhibitions will simply cancel shows, and that is unfortunate because that is already too much of a trend with many small fairs cancelling livestock shows through the years.

But the fate of shows is perhaps the least of the concerns for livestock and in particular cattle.

Cattle have been painted as environmental villains because like most mammals they pass gas, gas which is not good for the atmosphere.

In a world where you can look to the sky almost anytime and see jet vapour trails, cars are more numerous than ants, coal power generators spew smoke around the world, and many countries have limited, if any regulations on business greenhouse gas emissions, the cow is the scapegoat.

Do we need to be concerned about greenhouse gas emissions?

Of course we do.

We see climate change and what it can mean – more severe weather events in Canada and the resulting forest fire devastation of lightning strikes -- and while one might argue it’s a natural change we can’t afford to hope that is in fact the case and do nothing.

But, we also need to be reasonable in that response.

Demonizing the cow is not reasonable.

Still, as I watched the recent show I wondered if a largely agriculture-ignorant public might not push equally ill-informed legislators to limit cattle production because cows are an easier target than big corporation emitters.