Cows at a feeding trough.
In Alberta, it’s suddenly an outrage that cattle like these may be fed additives to reduce bovine belches and other methane-rich emissions Credit: / Creative Commons Credit: / Creative Commons

Using the COP28 climate conference in Dubai as a news hook, on Sunday the federal government announced a new draft protocol on reducing enteric methane emissions from beef cattle, which is a fancy way of saying bovine burps and farmyard flatulence. 

Burping bovines, as we have all come to understand over the past few years, are a real environmental problem, making their own measurable contribution to global climate change.

When ruminants burp as they digest their food, you see, methane is released into the air. When it gets there, it has more than 80 times the climate-warming potency of carbon dioxide as it lingers in the atmosphere. 

Naturally, folks who want to trivialize concerns about climate change, more often derisively refer to this problem as cow farts, since methane exits both ends of a cud-chewing animal.

But that’s no joke. According to a story last year in the National Observer, “methane emitted from the burps and manure of about 75,000 cows in a massive Brooks, Alta., feedlot is the 11th highest source of the gas nationwide after a handful of oil and gas facilities and landfills.”

Environment and Climate Change Canada’s communications boffins decided this would be a great moment to announce their plan to “incentivize farmers to implement changes that would reduce enteric methane emissions from their beef cattle operations with an opportunity to generate offset credits that they can sell.”

They should’ve known better.

So, also naturally, Alberta Premier Danielle Smith, who was in Dubai with her private army of fossil fuel industry lobbyists and her political brain trust, couldn’t resist the opportunity for a little rage ranching . 

“Some astute journalists have flagged that the Federal government’s bizarre cow emissions announcement calls for using chemical additives to reduce methane emissions,” she tweeted, calling this idea “a new low for the eco-extremists.”

Her tweet was accompanied by a cute image of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in a Calgary Stampede cowboy hat and an AI-cutified cow that somewhat incoherently asked, “DO YOU AGREE? To reduce emissions from cows, the federal government is proposing NEW CHEMICAL ADDITIVES.” 

The intentionally deceptive image was designed to appear as if it were produced by the Government of Canada, which I suppose one could describe as a new low for the Smith Government. Or maybe not. 

The astute journalists Smith had in mind, of course, were the usual gassy bloviators in the right-wing press who jumped on the story as an excuse to attack Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and federal Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault. 

But an actual astute journalist, Emma Graney of the Globe and Mail, observed with a tweet of her own yesterday that it was “odd to take aim at this when Emissions Reduction Alberta itself has funded various projects to develop feed additives to lower methane reductions from cattle.”

“That cash has come from Alberta’s carbon tax on large emitters,” the former member of the Alberta Legislature Press Gallery pointed out. “Wild to consider ERA ‘eco-extremists.’” 

She and others pointed to projects funded by ERA, the provincially financed venture capital company formerly known as the Climate Change and Emissions Management Corp., to help farmers produce “beef without burps,” as the headline of a story on the ERA website boasted. 

The “large-scale demonstration project of an innovative feed additive,” the story said, “is showing signs of a 70 per cent reduction in enteric methane emissions.” 

“Cattle were fed corn and barley along with different dosages of DSM’s additive to adjust the digestive system,” the story continued. “The ingredient was introduced to reduce methane produced by each animal, enabling substantial reductions in emissions from Alberta’s beef and dairy industries.”


Well, this establishes once again that the UCP communications strategy depends heavily on rage farming and deceptive practices, especially when it comes to federal policies, no matter how benign. 

It didn’t even matter to them that the federal news release politely pointed out “the draft REME protocol was informed by Alberta’s offset protocol on reducing greenhouse gas emissions from fed cattle.” (Emphasis added.) 

Likewise, it illustrates how Trudeau still lives rent-free in the heads of the UCP brain trust, whether their boss is in Dubai or here at home in Wild Rose Country. Nowadays he has apparently been joined in that space by Guilbeault.

This illustrates a timeless principle of Alberta politics: Anything Ottawa does is bad, even if it’s good.

What’s more, good things become bad the instant Ottawa takes them up.

This principle long predates Smith’s gaslighting or even the existence of the United Conservative Party, although it has become more prevalent of late. 

We Albertans, of course, are quite capable of being outraged that the feds might try to shove fart-reducing chemicals down the throats of our fine Alberta beef cattle and equally delighted that a provincially funded financing agency is enabling exactly the same thing.

David J. Climenhaga

David J. Climenhaga

David Climenhaga is a journalist and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions with the Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. He left journalism after the strike...