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Samantha Putterman
By Samantha Putterman August 6, 2019

Facebook post mischaracterizes scientists' cow flatulence studies

Are bags being attached to cows’ backs in an attempt to fight climate change?

The short answer is in some cases, but some social media posts that have surfaced recently are mischaracterizing and oversimplifying this fight against flatulence. 

The Facebook post making the rounds shares an image of a cow with a red bag strapped to its back and says: 

"I wish this was a joke but fringe leftist(s) are now advocating for cow fart bags to capture farts as a way to help prevent ‘global warming.’ You can’t make this stuff up folks."

The 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 Facebook.)

The image used in the post is real and was taken in 2008 in Argentina by Reuters photographer Marcos Brindicci. But the soft plastic tank was used by researchers from the National Institute of Agricultural Technology to collect the cow’s burps in order to study the effect its diet had on the production of methane.

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So, while it is certainly related to the fight against climate change, the bags in the photo were not attached in order to eliminate bovine methane emissions from the atmosphere, but to study the cow’s digestive system and measure the impact of its emissions.

Then, in 2013, the same researchers used the bags as a collection system to transform and convert the methane into renewable biofuels. One of the project’s technicians, Ricardo Bualo, said in the institute’s report that the purified and compressed biomethane could be used to generate caloric, light and motor energy: "A cow emits about 300 liters of methane per day, which can be used to operate a 100-liter refrigerator at a temperature between two and six degrees for a full day," he says.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, human activities are responsible for almost all of the increase in greenhouse gases in the atmosphere over the last 150 years. In 2017, about 9% of U.S. emissions came from the agriculture sector, the agency says.

So, yes, scientists are attaching backpacks to cows in order to collect their gas ⁠— burps, not flatulence ⁠— and transform it into renewable energy in an attempt to hamper the levels of methane that the animals release. 

But the Facebook post doesn’t explain any of the details of the studies, including the methane’s conversion, and it incorrectly pegs scientists and researchers as "fringe leftists." 

The post contains an element of truth but ignores critical facts that would give a different impression. We rate it Mostly False.

Our Sources

Facebook post, July 29, 2019 

Reuters pictures, Cows burp for science in Argentina, July 9, 2008

The National Agricultural Technology Institute, Cows gas can feed an engine, Oct. 11, 2013, Fart-Collecting Backpacks For Cows Look Silly, But They May Have A Serious Impact, Aug. 26, 2016, Facebook Post Mischaracterizes Cow Study, May 31, 2019

Upriser, Argentina’s "Methane Backpacks" Turn Cow Farts into Green Energy, accessed Aug. 1, 2019

Environmental Protection Agency, Sources of Greenhouse Gas Emissions, accessed Aug. 1, 2019

Mother Jones, Scientists Hooked Up an Inflatable Bag to a Cow Stomach. The Timelapse Video Is Insane, Dec. 2, 2015

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Facebook post mischaracterizes scientists' cow flatulence studies

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