Earlier this week, Denmark became the first nation to impose a carbon tax on cow and pig flatulence under the guise of reducing methane emissions by 70% from 1990 levels by 2030. 

The European Union (EU), including Denmark, has pledged to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050 by targeting agriculture to meet this goal. 

This will certainly impact the country’s 1.48 million cows, which are said to individually emit six metric tons of carbon dioxide (CO2). By 2030, farmers in the Scandinavian country will be required to pay a carbon tax equivalent to $43 per ton of CO2. If unchallenged, the tax will increase to $108 per ton of CO2 by 2035. Another report says each cow will incur a $100 tax.

“We have succeeded in landing a compromise on a CO2 tax, which lays the groundwork for a restructured food industry — also on the other side of 2030,” said Maria Reumert Gjerding, president of the Danish Society for Nature Conservation. 

This announcement coincides with the Danish government urging its population to transition to a plant-based diet. Bloomberg reported, “In an effort to slash tons of agriculture emissions from its carbon footprint, the Nordic nation is rolling out what is the world’s first government-led action plan for plant-based foods. The 40-page strategy, which involves no bans or restrictions, embraces a number of unconventional initiatives to make animal-free meals more enticing, tastier and accessible.”

This claim is misleading because the Danish action plan, unveiled last fall, says the government “wants to strengthen the Danish plant-based food sector” by instituting “a number of initiatives that support the value chain.” 

The ultimate goal here is to wean Danes off of meat consumption, with the plan adding, “Plant-based foods are the future. If we want to reduce the climate footprint within the agricultural sector, then we all have to eat more plant-based foods…”

Can cows and pigs be selectively bred to reduce methane emissions? It’s possible but not without significant trade-offs, farmers and ranchers argue. Brett Moline, director of Public and Governmental Affairs for the Wyoming Farm Bureau Federation, told Cowboy State Daily that cows bred for zero emissions could result in lower-quality meat: 

“You could get a cow with zero emissions,” Moline said. “But if the meat product is worthless, what good is it doing? You can’t sacrifice low emissions for good quality meat.”

Selective breeding can be a zero-sum game. Moline cautioned that, as has happened in the past, favoring the lineage of one trait will likely be to the detriment of others.

“The ultimate goal of selective breeding in cattle is the highest-quality meat,” Moline said. “If cattle are selectively bred for their lower methane outputs, that could sacrifice the quality of the product.”

The Government of Western Australia also warned that selective breeding for methane could incur other risks. It conceded tracking methane emissions is “difficult” and warned smaller cattle operations will see lower income benefits. The agency also argued that “increased feed conversion efficiency” results in increased stocking rate—which would, ironically, increase total methane emissions.

Selective breeding of cows isn’t the only controversial net-zero directive emanating from Europe. Ireland almost sacrificed 300,000 head of cattle in the name of net zero but appeared to nix the proposal after local farmers and ranchers voiced their opposition.

Much to the chagrin of radical environmentalists here and abroad, cows are inherently valuable for the environment and keep America green. How so? Their presence is beneficial to “keeping wildlife corridors open, preventing the spread of noxious weeds, and promoting the growth of local vegetative species.”

The U.S. should tread carefully here and not follow Denmark’s footsteps, as selective breeding for methane has mixed results and may worsen emissions.