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Kristin Hugo
By Kristin Hugo November 7, 2022

Even mammals 'living in harmony with nature' produce greenhouse gases

If Your Time is short

  • Cattle, and all mammals, produce methane, nitrous oxide and carbon dioxide, which are all greenhouse gases.

  • Cattle and other grass-chewing animals with hooves and multichambered stomachs  — called ruminants — produce significant amounts of methane.

When you see a field of grazing cattle languidly chewing grass, it might be hard to imagine that they are emitting greenhouse gases. 

One pro-meat social media account claimed that they aren’t.

"There are no greenhouse gas emissions in this photo," says text above a photo of grazing cows posted Oct. 29 on Instagram. 

The post, by farmer and pro-meat author Anthony Gustin, was a screenshot of his tweet.

The Instagram caption says, "Are we really supposed to believe that a mammal living as it should in harmony in its natural environment somehow ‘emits’ a toxic gas that is bad for the planet and we as humans must reduce their population to save the planet from destruction? Don't believe the lies."

The Instagram post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram.) 

Andy Reisinger, a visiting fellow at the Climate Change Institute at the Australian National University’s Fenner School of Environment and Society, said in an email that "greenhouse gases are everywhere, and they are invisible."

Greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide, trap heat in the atmosphere, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Methane is one of the main greenhouse gases that contributes to climate change, according to the World Meteorological Association and the U.S. Energy Information Administration

All organisms produce methane, according to a study in the journal Nature

Featured Fact-check

Cattle are ruminants — grass-chewing animals with hooves and multichambered stomachs. Other ruminants include deer, goats and buffalo. 

"What characterizes a ruminant animal is a specialized digestive system that allows them to break down and digest food that is undigestible by non-ruminants, such as humans," according to the Clarity and Leadership for Environmental Awareness and Research Center at the University of California, Davis.

Cattle store food in one part of their stomachs, where it ferments. The fermentation "produces the greenhouse gas, methane, as well as a host of other byproducts," according to the center, which also notes that "decomposing food in landfills does the same thing." The cattle then release methane, mainly by belching but also through flatulence. 

The Instagram post says we shouldn’t believe that a mammal living in harmony with its environment could produce methane. 

But "whether an animal lives in harmony with nature has unfortunately very little to do with the amount of greenhouse gases it produces," Reisinger said. "Every cow, even one that munches happily on pesticide and fertilizer-free grass, will produce methane."

Our ruling

An Instagram post said "there are no greenhouse gas emissions in this photo" of cows grazing. 

But greenhouse gases are everywhere and are invisible. And cattle produce methane through their digestive process, then release it through belching and flatulence.

We rate this claim False. 


Our Sources

Instagram post, (archived) Oct. 29, 2022 

Dr. Anthony Gustin, "About," accessed Nov. 2, 2022

Adobe Stock, "Grazing Cows," accessed Nov. 2, 2022 

Email interview with Andy Reisinger, visiting fellow, Climate Change Institute, Fenner School of Environment and Society, and principal scientist, Climate Change, at New Zealand's Ministry for the Environment, Nov. 2, 2022

Environmental Protection Agency, "Overview of Greenhouse Gases," May 16, 2022 

Science Daily, "All organisms produce methane," March 11, 2022 

Verify This, "Yes, cattle are the top source of methane emissions in the US," Dec. 14, 2022

University of California, Davis, "How Do Cattle Produce Methane?" Oct. 23, 2019

Statista, "Total number of all cattle and calves in the United States from 2001 to 2022," Oct. 10, 2022 

World Meteorological Association, "Greenhouse gases," accessed Nov. 2, 2022 

U.S. Energy Information Administration, "Energy and the environment explained: Greenhouse gases," July 27, 2022

University of California, Davis, "Why methane from cattle warms the climate differently than CO2 from fossil fuels," July 7, 2020 

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Even mammals 'living in harmony with nature' produce greenhouse gases

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