Farmers kick up a stink over plans to tax flatulent cows
Livestock producers say the US government's Environment Protection Agency (EPA) wants to charge them for rising levels of methane and other polluting nitrous gases emitted by their cows and pigs.
But, farmers warn, the "cow tax" fees of up to $175 (120) per cow and $20 (14) per pig are symbolic of unwelcome winds of change blowing through the agriculture industry.
"This could absolutely ruin us," said Perry Mobley, an Alabama beef farmer and a director of the state's federation of farmers. It could put many of us out of business and lead to steakhouses and other restaurants closing down. We're not trying to be alarmist, but our livelihoods are at stake.
"It's a bad deal and not a lot of common sense has been used. You can't stop a cow from ruminating by charging a permit."
A 2006 United Nations report said farm animals were responsible for 20 per cent of greenhouse gases leading to global warming, including about nine per cent of the planet's carbon dioxide output, up to 40 per cent of methane and 65 per cent of nitrous oxide.
An EPA spokesman said farmers were distorting the message in a recently published consultation document, which contained only a brief mention of livestock production and aimed to address the regulation of greenhouse gases by use of the Clean Air Act.
John Millett, of the EPA's air and radiation division, said the body had yet to form a firm policy following that ruling and welcomed comments from representatives of all industries, including agriculture. He added: "We are not proposing any type of tax on livestock."
However, the American Farm Bureau Federation, a national lobbying group, said it was clear from the document that farmers would be expected to pay up. Using figures from the US Department of Agriculture, it calculated that any farm or ranch with more than 25 dairy cows, 50 beef cattle or 200 pigs would emit more than 100 tons of carbon equivalent per year, and therefore be required to pay for a "pollution permit" if new rules were adopted.
It said fees could reach $40,000 (27,000) a year for a medium-sized holding.
Mark Maslyn, the federation's executive director of public policy, claimed that more than 90 per cent of US meat and dairy producers would be affected.
"Most livestock and dairy farmers would not be able to pass along the costs incurred under this plan," Mr Maslyn said.
"The steep fees would force many producers out of business and the net result would likely be higher costs for milk, beef and pork."
He added that the proposed rules would not be effective because of increasing pollution elsewhere.
"Reduction of a ton of greenhouse gases anywhere will make a difference, but if a ton is removed in Iowa and replaced by a ton in China, then no net effect occurred," he said.