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home : opinion : opinion

10/16/2013 1:01:00 PM Email this articlePrint this article 
Danger Alert: Cow flatulence

Submitted by C.J. Hadley

"Maybe it's just me, but the amount of governmental intrusion into our daily lives is out of control," writes Barry L. Perryman, Ph.D., in the Fall issue of RANGE magazine, a national publication devoted to issues affecting the people who work the land and fill America's supermarket shelves.

"The fact that we have even had a national discussion (thanks to the Environmental Protection Agency) about a tax on cow flatulence makes my case," he says. Perryman, a regular RANGE contributor, is a rangeland ecologist who specializes in natural resource management issues of the western states.

Because of their digestive systems, livestock belch and pass gas, and it's the gas that has global-warming advocates concerned. They contend livestock emit climate-changing methane and are responsible for around 37 percent of methane emissions, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, which has also called for a tax on flatulence. So far, the idea has failed to pass the smell test.  

Ranchers are bombarded daily with more and more regulations and standards, Perryman says. About 40,000 federal laws have been passed each year over the last decade, some of which are aimed at family ranches and farms. "At some point it cannot go on," he says.

Not only are ranchers and farmers faced with the rigorous and complex day-to-day, dawn-till-dusk tasks of herd health management, acquiring forage, haying, irrigating, planting, cultivating, spraying, calving, repairing equipment, working colts and fillies, shearing sheep, keeping branding records, planning genetics, ordering fuel, etc., etc., they must also have access to a reliable labor source. In the case of family operations, that labor source is often children of the owners, extended family, and neighbors. 

The U.S. Department of Labor in 2011, came up with a proposal that, if implemented, would criminalize cultural activities that have been part of ranch and farming life for more than a century. It would have limited what children under 18 can do at home and it also suggested kids should be paid for work they do on the family farm. The administration is under pressure to reintroduce the regulation.

Cristina L.H. Traina, a Public Voices Op Ed fellow and professor of social ethics at Northwestern University, and the Human Rights Watch organization are leading the charge. In a recent article written for CNN Opinion, Traina wrote, "Despite exposure to all the hazards, these children never learn the craft of farming."

Perryman countered: "She could be right, but they don't go away without an education. I would give you good odds that after one branding, a couple of 12-year-old calf muggers know more about life than Ms. Traina and The Human Rights Watch ever will."

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