If feeding fish to cows is the answer, somebody's asking the wrong question...

Posted by Willie — 2 April 2009 at 4:11pm - Comments

cows copywrite michelle lyles (creative commons)

Fish? No thanks, I'm vegetarian... © CC Michelle Lyles

Sometimes, you are a bit dumbfounded by stories that make the news. Seriously, you couldn't make some of it up, could you? I couldn't let this one pass (so to speak) without comment.

Today's belter is the new study suggesting that feeding fish to cows will help climate change. Yes, you read that right. The theory is something like this – cows, which we farm for milk, meat and leather, produce methane. Most of this is by burping, not flatulence as the comics would prefer. Methane is a bad, nasty, evil greenhouse gas. And we want to cut those down, don't we?

Well, research has shown that incorporating some two per cent of fish oil into the cows' diet would mean substantially less methane. So it's not just us that are being urged to eat more of that omega 3 stuff.

In a roundabout way, maybe that makes sense. But really, honestly, what the ****? Feeding fish to cows?! Even if our bovine friends had opposable thumbs and could handle a fishing rod, I doubt they'd be off down the canal of a weekend to catch something for supper.

More to the point, from an environmental perspective - where is all that fish supposed to come from? Two per cent of all the food for all the cattle in the world – that's a lot of fish!

We are not exactly awash with healthy fish stocks as it is, and the fisheries that produce fish meal and oil (so called 'industrial fisheries' for species like sand eel, anchovies, blue whiting, and most recently krill) are amongst the most indefensible and unsustainable fishing practices we have - catching fish, to make meal, to feed to farmed fish like salmon, or chickens and pigs.

"It's food for thought that anyone tucking into bacon and eggs is eating fish and trashing the oceans by proxy already."

It's food for thought that anyone tucking into bacon and eggs is eating fish and trashing the oceans by proxy already.

You might also have heard recently about the acidification of our oceans. As the oceans absorb half of the CO2 we generate, they are getting more and more acidic. Just like water or juice gets more acidic when carbonated.

This makes it more difficult for many of the smallest critters in the oceans, things like plankton and tiny crustaceans to build shells. And of course, little things in the ocean exist to be eaten by bigger things, which are quite often the ones we ourselves want to eat. So ocean acidification poses a real threat to ocean food chains from the bottom up.

So, the latest wheeze (or more properly, the last-ditch attempt to justify a crazy plan) is that we should 'fertilize' the oceans with iron, to try and reverse it. And, rather desperately, there are even claims that this will save blue whales.

I would suggest that a better way to help blue whales, and everything smaller that lives in the oceans, is to try and limit our CO2 emissions - rather than find wacky solutions that will cause more harm than good. Another good thing to do might be to stop unsustainable fishing practices – and in the Southern Ocean might be the perfect place to start.

And lastly, to come full circle with this bodily-function obsessed blog, we must not forget that leaving lots of fish in the ocean can help lessen the effects of climate change on the oceans. Basically the calcium carbonate in fish poo makes it alkaline – which in turn helps stop the acidification of the oceans which happens as they absorb our CO2 … so taking fish out of the oceans means they are less able to deal with all the CO2 we churn out in the future.

We need more fish poo. And that means we need more fish in the seas, not less … so let's not feed them to the cows, huh?

About Willie

Hi, I'm Willie, I work with Greenpeace on all things ocean-related

Twitter: @williemackenzie

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