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Pig cooling pads and weather forecasts for cows are high-tech ways to make meat in a warming world

CHICAGO .US (AP) — More than a third of the heat-trapping gases cooking the planet come from growing and raising farm animals, but millions of cattle, pigs and other animals get to stay cool in the United States and other parts of the developed world.

Many American farmers have apps to forecast animal comfort in the heat. There are computer-controlled “ cooling pads ” for sows. Dairy farmers lower barns’ temperatures with misters, air conditioning and giant fans. Special pedometers, the cow version of a Fitbit, measure vital signs that give clues to animals’ health.

More intense summer heat resulting from emissions-driven climate change means animal heat stress that can result in billions of dollars in lost revenue for farmers and ranchers if not properly managed. But technology often insulates livestock in richer countries — another way global warming exacerbates the gap between wealthy and poor nations.

The U.S. is the world’s largest producer and consumer of beef by volume. People have been drinking less milk in the U.S. but eating more cheese, and government programs still support dairies across the country. About 20% of all global greenhouse gas emissions come from animal-based food products, said Atul Jain, a professor in the department of atmospheric sciences at The University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign who studies the interactions between climate and human activities like agriculture.

Livestock producers in other parts of the world can’t adopt measures to beat the heat as easily as farmers in the U.S. A 2022 study in the Lancet Planetary Health found that cattle heat stress losses will be far greater in most tropical regions than in temperate regions, due to higher climate impacts and the relatively higher price of measures to adapt to climate change.

Many experts advocate for people in countries like the U.S., where diets are heavy with animal products, to eat less meat and dairy. But big, industrial farms in developed countries are relatively efficient, so to meet global demand with fewer animals, less-developed countries will also need to access the kind of technology that can make them more productive in the face of extreme heat.

“Those innovations bring me a lot of hope,” said Mario Herrero, a professor of food systems and global change at Cornell University who coauthored the Lancet Planetary Health study. “It’s a matter of how do we deploy them.”

This winter, the McAllister family of New Vienna, Iowa, installed new fans above the beds where their cows lie, and they’re happy with the updates. Their cows are already showing signs of improved welfare, like chewing more cud, and there’s more heat ahead this summer.

“We’re going to do what’s best by our cows no matter what is or isn’t going on with climate change,” said Megan McAllister, a sixth-generation dairy farmer. Her husband’s family has been farming for five generations.

September feels like another August these days, McAllister said.

“We want to make the right investments to better our cows, better our businesses that are our dairies, and make sure we’re here for the long haul and that we are thinking about sustainability,” she said.

By Associated Press

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