The Farts Heard ?Round the World: Where Cow-Tapping Falls on the International Agenda of Sustainable Development

Author:Alexandra C. Nolan
Position:J.D. Candidate 2020, American University Washington College of Law.
Fall 2017
the fartS hearD ‘rounD the worlD: where
cow-tapping fallS on the international
agenDa of SuStainable Development
Alexandra C. Nolan*
To meet sustainable development goals, countries have
developed innovative technologies to create a cleaner
environment. One technology developed in Argentina
for cleaner methane extraction entails the entrails of cows. A
cow’s diet and biological disposition is made up of “rumens,”
which creates the perfect chemical birthplace for methane gas.1
The methane emissions from one cow’s burps and farts are
harmless.2 However, cows’ collective methane emissions can be
lethal.3 Recently, a barn housing ninety cows exploded in Ger-
many because of the cows’ collective methane emissions, sug-
gesting that methane can be inherently dangerous.4
Methane also has long-term consequences for the environ-
ment, as it is expected to negatively affect the environment
twenty to twenty-three times more than carbon dioxide in the
next 100 years.5 Methane emissions from cows account for a
quarter of the world’s total methane emissions.6 With these sta-
tistics in mind, it is evident that cow burps and farts signicantly
contribute to the deterioration of our environment.
To address the methane challenge posed by cows,
Argentina’s National Institute of Agricultural Technology
(INTA) developed the cow “fart-pack.”7 The process of using
the “fart-pack” is called “cow-tapping.”8 The “fart-pack”
extracts methane through a tube inserted into the cow’s stom-
ach, stores the methane in containers, and uses it as an alterna-
tive fuel source.9 By utilizing “fart-packs,” 300 milliliters of
methane a day can be extracted from the cow to power a 100
milliliter refrigerator for one day.10 While INTA perfected the
“fart-packs,” they are not unique to Argentina—England also
uses “fart-packs.”11
Despite the “successes” of “fart-packs,” they raise impera-
tive ethical questions regarding animal welfare.12 Is there
international law that adequately addresses animal welfare?
Are the values of clean energy prioritized over values of ani-
mal protection?
Cow-tapping exemplies the compromise of animal welfare
for a scientic procedure of innovation. As to date, there is only
one ratied international agreement adequately addressing the
use of animals in scientic procedures of innovation, and it
pertains only to Europe. It is called the European Convention
for the Protection of Vertebrate Animals Used for Experimental
and Scientic Purposes (“Convention”).13 Does the Convention
approve cow-tapping?
Article One of the Convention calls for the main purpose of
a procedure to be for the protection of the environment.14 The
main purpose of cow-tapping is trapping methane gas, and thus
can be seen as environmentally benecial.15 Another purpose for
such procedures under Article One is research.16 Another pur-
pose of cow-tapping is to research how methane can be used as
an alternative energy producer.17 A third acceptable purpose for
such a procedure under Article One is forensic inquiry.18 Cow-
tapping is a process of forensic inquiry because it reveals the
natural process of methane production. Therefore, cow-tapping
is a justied procedure under the Convention.
The Convention outlines requirements to ensure animals
experience the least amount of pain possible.19 Such require-
ments include the animal’s freedom of movement and that the
animal be given food, water, proper healthcare, and proper
supervision.20 Cow-tappers may meet these requirements.21
The Convention also calls for the use of animals in scien-
tic procedures as a last resort.22 Article Four expressly states
the Convention cannot inhibit liberties of signatories to adopt
stricter animal welfare measure involved in the procedures.23 The
Convention further states in Article Six, “[a] procedure shall not
be performed for any of the purposes . . . if another . . . method,
not entailing the use of an animal, is reasonably . . . available”
and calls for active research into alternative methods.24
Under Article Six, cow-tapping is legal in Europe. While
alternative methods for methane extraction, not including the
use of cows, are reasonably available, there is not currently an
alternative method to extract methane from cows. The challenge
faced is not how to extract methane, but how to specically
reduce cows’ methane emissions. Currently, the only way to
address this threat is to cow-tap.
Multiple international agreements governing animal wel-
fare are awaiting ratication.25 For now, only the Convention
adequately approves cow-tapping in Europe.26 The lack of inter-
national law governing cow-tapping indicates the international
community values clean energy over animal welfare. While
there are several international agreements governing clean
energy, animal welfare agreements have taken a back seat.27 One
thing is clear: the time for international consensus on animal
welfare is long overdue.
* J.D. Candidate 2020, American University Washington College of Law.
Endnotes on page 56