by Marion Nestle
Mar 2 2009

Today’s chocolate problem: cow burps

Today’s snow storm has closed New York schools and cancelled my scheduled lecture on Staten Island.  This unexpected holiday gives me time to contemplate the latest challenge to marketers of chocolate candy: gas emissions from dairy cows.

Cadbury estimates that 60% of the carbon footprint created by its chocolate operations in the U.K. comes from dairy cows.  The average cow, it says, gives off 80 to 120 kilograms of methane annually, an amount equivalent to that produced by driving a car for a year.

The remedy?  Reduce cow burps.   How?  Cadbury is going to try feeding them more clover, more starch, and less fiber, and treating them better.

Will this work?  If it does, will you buy more Cadbury chocolate?

  • I’m going to assume that these are cows which are currently being fed a traditional industrial diet of indigestible grains that cows are not meant to be eating. It’s great that Cadbury is going to ‘try’ feeding them something more along the lines of what they should be eating so they aren’t depleting our ozone with their diet-induced intestinal discomfort as much. However, what I would like to see is an industry-wide acceptance that the current methods of large-scale cattle feeding are incredibly destructive to the environment, cruel to the animals, and wasteful in general.
    As for me, I won’t be buying something that I’m not otherwise already purchasing simply because the company is making a gesture of green-ness.

  • Well, I won’t buy Cadbury products either way. But I never thought about chocolate as a food that has negative effects on the environment. Meat, yes. But of course, any dairy product has the same issue! We could solve a few problems at once by curbing the sweets we eat as holiday traditions. Sorry about Easter, Cadbury.

  • I would LOVE a reason to eat more chocolate but eating more chocolate unfortunately comes with its own problems… like needing to go buy bigger pants.

  • I don’t buy this kind of food at all, but it is very interesting to me that giant companies are starting to not only recognize the problems they have on their hands, but they are also going public with this information. It’s bittersweet. The cow methane problem has existed for years. But because it’s currently sexy to be green and part of the “fix it” trend, it is a problem that is now being dealt with. The more publicity for these companies, the better (for them). Unfortunately, there are a plethora more problems that won’t be dealt with because the fixing of them isn’t sexy yet. Like I said, it’s bittersweet.

  • I still wouldn’t buy Cadbury’s. It is disgusting.

  • Cathy Richards

    The answer is simple — don’t buy milk chocolate, buy dark chocolate. It is higher in the beneficial antioxidants anyway, and milk proteins interfere with the function of the antioxidants. Now the only gas involved is the oil to ship the cocoa mass to the producers, to manufacture the goodies, and to get the goodies to the masses.

    Hopefully we already know to buy organic fair trade chocolate. That likely excludes most Cadbury choices. I won’t get too into the politics of chocolate, but child slave labour has been associated with the industry. Re: the organic choice — think of the migrating birds that come back to the northern hemisphere to have their babies and eat our bugs. If they are damaged by pesticides used on chocolate, coffee and banana plantations, then our countries suffer.

  • My first thoughts were along the same lines as Jacquelyn’s. It amazes me that companies continually discover that the solution to their (or the earth’s) problems is to ditch the industrial methods.

    I was just reading about how cows could have significantly lower E. coli levels if they were switched to a natural diet of grass and hay for even just 5 days before they were slaughtered. This was discovered in 1998!, and yet, nothing like that has been instituted. What are the rates of E. coli poisoning? I don’t think the trend is heading downward.

    I was compelled to write about the E.coli study:

  • Tom

    I’m mystified by this “cow burp/methane” stuff; are these literally burps emerging from the mouth or is “burp” some bullstuffing politically correct euphemism for fart?

  • Tom

    OK, I time enough to look up the “cow burp” thing and it is, indeed, the classic belch from the oral apparatus. Research also indicates that methane emisions from cattle confined to barns is less than the emissions from cattle grazing in fields where they would, presumably, already have access to clover and other forbs and grass; so I’m still mystified, but now it’s why adding clover to their diet is going to help.

    And I don’t have a clue toward understanding this: “I still wouldn’t buy Cadbury’s. It is disgusting.” With no reference to WHAT is disgusting I’m left to ponder if it’s the chocolate or the act of buying that disgusts Andree.

  • Daniel Ithaca,NY

    Just buy


    uncontaminated with dairy–then everyone can enjoy it. Especially the cows!

  • If cows are to blame for that large of a percentage of gas emissions (which then leads to ‘global warming’ which I assume is where they’re headed here) then they wouldn’t be on earth to begin with. Maybe Cadbury should ‘try’ reducing production and maybe we the consumers should reducing consumption. And then maybe we’ll get somewhere…

  • Lysander

    You can’t possibly be serious.