Rivers: Humans pass wind an estimated twenty times a day on a good day.

Rivers 100x100By Ray Rivers

January 13, 2018



FART. Not a word you would have seen in print only a couple decades ago. Four letter words were once taboo – LOVE excepted. But today they are as common as crows, showing up everywhere; print media, television, movies, school playgrounds and sometimes even at the family dinner table. And when the leader of the free world uses language like “shithole countries” – well what the heck!

farting couple rivers

He seems rather pleased with himself!

Humans pass wind an estimated twenty times a day on a good day. Of course that can vary with weight and exercise and health… and diet. We know it’s beans, beans, beans. But it’s also broccoli, cabbage, onions, garlic, beer and meat.

Aesthetics aside the real problem with off-gassing is the contribution it makes to our changing climate. It’s the methane gas generated in the intestines during digestion which is the culprit. And methane, as we know, is a far more potent greenhouse gas than the carbon dioxide we always talk about.

It’s true that beans are a much more potent flatulent than meat. Yet it’s where these foods come from that really puts that statement on its head. Cattle and sheep are ruminants, they have four stomachs and regurgitate their food (chewing their cud) which leads to massive gas production.


Do the math – 500 litres of methane gas per day x how many cows?

One study estimated that a cow generates up to 500 litres of methane gas per day. With almost seven million cows in Canada, that is a heck of a lot of gas. An article in the Atlantic estimated that meat consumption accounts for more than a third of all US greenhouse gas emissions (GHG). And if all meat were banned tomorrow, the US would be in the home stretch, fully three quarters of the way there, to meeting its Obama-era 2020 emissions reduction goal – without doing a single thing more.

But that is not likely to happen in a USA where its president goes to bed hugging a cheeseburger instead of his wife. America is blessed with Trump, the climate change denier, who has worked hard to transform the once proud USA from world leader to rogue nation. And nothing was more rogue than thumbing his nose at the rest of the world and the planet and pulling out of the Paris climate agreement.

TRump burger

Trump with his burger and fries.

Trump may be part of the problem but he is hardly the cause. Meat consumption has been increasing globally, a response to rising national incomes and the extension of western culinary customs. Global meat consumption grew by FIVE times between 1992 and 2016. Even in India, where a third of the population claim to be Hindu or Jain vegetarian, meat consumption has been growing faster than a raging Brahman bull.

Perhaps it’s a presidential thing as former US president Bill Clinton was also an infamous hamburger hog, until he finally needed bypass surgery – and the meadow muffin hit him smack in the face. Trump is so passionate about his meat that he’s been known to throw away the buns so he can get right at the beef. In fact he forced his Japanese hosts to change their traditional sushi dinner menu to hamburgers for his recent state visit.

And besides climate change, meat is also a contributing factor for obesity, diabetes, cancer, soil degradation, high water consumption and deforestation. And lest we forget, milk also comes from that big brown moo-moo. Yet, it is inconceivable that any liberal democracy would adopt a policy to outright ban farm animal production or meat and dairy consumption.

But we might tax it! That is exactly what many organizations are calling for, including those claiming an authority to lobby for human health and animal welfare. They want a sin tax on meat, just like what we have for tobacco and alcohol, carbon, and pretty soon marijuana. Increasing the cost would encourage consideration of alternatives in our diet. A salad and single-malt scotch instead of meat and milk works for me.

Back in 2003 New Zealand floated the notion of taxing its 100,000 plus farmers with a hefty but inappropriately named ‘fart tax’ – a misnomer since cows actually belch more than fart. Animal rearing is responsible for as much as half of all of that island nation’s GHG emissions. And of course, the farmers continue to protest that such a tax would imperil their international competitiveness and crash their economy.

However, taxing meat at the production stage does more than raise cash. Clearly more research needs to be funded into developing less gas-causing animal diets, and other technology, until we find that perfectly toot-less moo-moo. But an emissions tax would also encourage greater adoption of that technology, even by today’s more conventionally-minded farmers.

And there is complementary research on the consumer front, including at least one Franken-science laboratory which has developed a synthetic something-or-other in a petrie glass. It’s not a soy-burger, but rather, something which apparently looks and tastes like Harvey’s ‘a beautiful thing’. And no animals are being harmed in the process. But at a cost of $300,000 per burger, the Ontario minimum wage would have to increase well beyond $14 before McDonald’s starts to worry about sales of its Big Mac.

cow face

Apparently – I am the problem.

Taxes have a way of forcing technology and changing habits. Cigarettes are a case in point. Keeping them hidden and banning them from public spaces helps, available vapour E-cigs probably help as well, but higher prices are the real kicker, forcing sales to continue their downward tumble.

Who knows? One day hamburgers may be banned from bars and other public places as well. And perhaps those gassy beans will be next on the list of controlled substances. And maybe one day we’ll hear that the US president prefers settling down with a Franken burger next to him at bedtime.


Rivers hand to faceRay Rivers writes weekly on both federal and provincial politics, applying his more than 25 years as a federal bureaucrat to his thinking.  Rivers was once a candidate for provincial office in Burlington.  He was the founder of the Burlington citizen committee on sustainability at a time when climate warming was a hotly debated subject.     Tweet @rayzrivers

Background links:

“Shithole” –   Passing Gas Etiquette –   Farting –  Trump’s Big Mac

More Burgers –   Meat Tax –   More meat –   Beans vs Meat

Indian Meat –   Cow Farts –   NZ Fart Tax –   More NZ

Meat Tax –   More Meat Tax –   Franken Burgers –   Profanity

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