No Laughing Cows: When Herds
Go Mad & Burst With Pee Power
What would you do if you’d found a cow’s heart at your doorstep? Or if you were under attack by an angry bovine? Worse yet, what if the burger you’ve just ate had been grown in a Dutch lab? These are but just a few surprisingly news about the world of livestock, dear reader, and we bet you didn’t expect it to be so exciting.
Or sinister. That heart was found on Valentine’s Day. Mad outbursts in the countryside? They’re more common than you think and more people are killed by cows in the U.S. than by any other animal. Oh, and so you know, it takes just one cow, regardless if it’s a mad one, to supply the energy needed to heat up 19 houses.
Most of us carry on with the business of our lives never thinking for a moment that we may have the wrong ideas about the animals that surround us. Specially the ones that people also consider meals.
Take your neighbor and his cellphone, for example. Just kidding. Choose the cow, instead. Is there another animal whose public image is more identified with passivity and pastoral bliss? That is, until one visits a slaughterhouse, of course.
Still, how can anyone be prepared to find a gory package at the entrance of their home, as Scott Fleming of Portland did? Or what’s the odds for someone sashaying through the fields of the lord to be suddenly trampled to death by a formerly perfectly reasonable bovine?
But, as it turns out, there’s a lot we can do to either avoid tasteless surprises in our dinner plate or welcome novel ways to minimize the impact of our lifestyle on the environment.
HOLY BLOODY VALENTINE
“You will always have my heart,” read the note attached to the box that spooked Fleming and ruined the romance right out of his Valentine’s Day: who’d do such a thing, he asked himself. As it turned out, no one he knew.
It was a (bad) practical joke someone had intended to play on a friend, but went terribly wrong when the package was dropped off at the wrong address. That solution to the mystery didn’t diminish the grief the poor guy had to go through for a few days.
Until the identity of the prankster (which we won’t reveal here) was established, the meaty heart had to be thoroughly examined by the forensics police to determine exactly to whom or what it belonged to.
But there’s a slightly blood-stained silver lining to the story: at least none of Fleming’s own friends would do such a thing and that, let’s face it, may be a relief to anyone. Oh, yes, and all indicates that the heart was purchased at the local butcher, nothing gory about it.
As with everything, when it comes to menace, looks can be deadly deceiving. When you think of Africa, for example, you may visualize any of the big cats pouncing at you, all powerful fangs and paws. And yet, the animal responsible for most human deaths in the whole continent is the hippo.
The same here. People freak out about sharks, wolves, pumas and pit bulls. And then get killed by cows. A lot. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention says that 108 Americans died from ‘cattle-induced’ injuries, between 2003 and 2008.
Cynics may say that the center has recently lost some credibility when it issued a guide on how to survive an invasion of zombies. We wouldn’t be so harsh with the place and, unless it does get overridden by a crowd of ravenous beasts, we still plan to call it in case of a major outbreak of any other kind.
Besides, what other organization would put together a study on bovine aggressiveness and what to do in case you’re staring down an angry cow? That’s actually easy (or easier said than done): simply run for your dear life.
But the study has some very useful tips, specially for those who are most at risk: people who work in farms and in close contact with herds. Some recommendations are plain, good advice: nursing mothers top the list of the most dangerous of the bunch. Or avoid being in crowded spaces with a few of these half-ton vegetarians.
Animals have a mind of their own and it’s sometimes a matter of life or death (yours) to keep an eye on what they may be up to. And they do have mean streaks too. In this case, the study offers a simple solution to a lot of people: eat them.
Now, if you happen to be a vegetarian, well, it may be harder to explain why you’d be working in a place with a lot of bovines than to be killed by them.
Common sense tells us that the world is getting hungry, and most people seem to agree with such statement. It’s what to do about it that gets people divided and conflicted.
A great percentage of the Earth’s growing population doesn’t think we should be eating meat, for example. Then again, those who believe in that are either concerned about ethical issues or following the precepts of their faith. Above all, they may have a choice the majority does not.
Neither motivation is behind the research developed by Dutch scientists, who plan to serve the first laboratory-grown hamburger by the end of 2012. Instead, the idea is to minimize the environmental impact of traditional animal-rearing methods in the meat industry.
Such pragmatism may be necessary, as we watch famine and starvation compromising the future of entire generations throughout the planet. The U.N. estimates that land used for animal farming takes up to almost a third of Earth’s land mass. And demand for meat products is expected to double in the next four decades.
To develop the so called test-tube meat, bovine stem cells grown in a vat are transformed into layers of beef muscle cells. That’s minced and mixed with animal fat, also grown in the lab. If all goes well, the synthetic lump of meat will be something resembling a burger that will be cooked by a celebrated British chef.
Critics of the project, on the other hand, believe that the best long-term solutions to world hunger should not rely on animals but on vegetarian and vegan alternatives. They may have a point, but the lab-grown meat experiment already has at least one unexpected supporter: the People for the Ethical Treatment of the Animals.
THE POWER OF COW PEE
Until those two camps can join forces, even more pragmatic science is making strides to find ways to lessen the waste that the animal-food production industry generates. And they’re using an old but always reliable idea: recycling.
It’s no coincidence that so much research is dedicated to reusing and making animal waste into a more cost-effective by-product.
The consumption of fossil fuels by the industry, the environmental impact, pollution of the soil and greenhouse gas emissions into the air, represent an enormous factor in the depletion of our natural resources.
Now, add urine to a growing list of alternative sources of energy already being employed. Pee power is based on hydrogen, the most common element in the universe but one that’s hard to produce, store, transport and use economically.
But a single molecule of urea, a major component of urine, contains four atoms of hydrogen bonded to two atoms of nitrogen. With a nickel electrode connected to an electrical current, it’s possible to extract hydrogen gas from a pool of urine. In this case, animal, but you know very well who also regularly releases lots of urine-trapped hydrogen.
A team at the Ohio University built a very small prototype capable of generating up to 500 milliwatts of power, which demonstrated the feasibility of one day, to be able to fuel whole farms with larger versions. And it’d be particularly useful for livestock producers who are required by law to pool their animals’ waste.
We do hope, though, that such line of research may help put to rest once and for all a nasty trend that threatens to blame the increase in planetary air pollution solely on cow farts. A convenient scapegoat excuse, if you would, for bashing these animals that fed us for so long, to exempt us from our our own sins.
No wonder sometimes they go mad and even come after you, hooves and all, and as we said before, you’d better run for your sorry ass, er, life, my friend, if you still know what’s good for you.