Climate Change, Cows and Zwitterionic Complexes

Who can be unmoved by the bucolic sight of cattle, knee deep in lush pasture and ambling lazily from meadow to meadow: but when it comes to climate change, those same herds are responsible for 2% of global CO2 emissions, which is pretty much on a par with international air traffic ( It’s all too easy to stay unmoved as a jumbo jet thunders overhead, but easier to forget that your average ruminant cow now produces between 250 to 500 litres of methane every day: a combination of higher feed intake, increased carbohydrates in their diet, and a surge in artificial feed supplements. Of course the cattle don’t have much choice, but these days they’re munching on a lot more than grass: farmers routinely give them lipids and ionophores (amongst other things) to bulk them up through so-called zwitterionic complexes, which frankly sounds a bit like something from Star Wars…


And if you think that’s a purely Western phenomenon, think again…despite the slaughter of cows being prohibited in India, buffalo meat production makes the subcontinent the second largest beef exporter in the world (before the BJP was elected in 2014, it was the biggest), and India is currently targeting China and the European Union for it’s so-called “Carabeef” output: zwitterionic complexes are alive and kicking in India too.


Which may help explain why, across the planet, vegan and plant based products are now amongst the fastest growing categories requested from food delivery companies: in the UK, vegan orders rose by 107% in the first quarter of last year, and this year they rose by a staggering 163%. Some 15% of Deliveroo orders now include vegan items, and over in the States, there is a surge in demand for almond milk (as well as other “alt milk” products)…quite literally cutting out the middle cow, and happily reducing methane emissions in the process. 


In fact most customers under 35 now prefer plant-based milks…and even that old meat monarch, Burger King, is offering them a vegan Whopper…flame grilled to perfection no doubt.


It's a Millennial Thing


Here’s the really interesting point…although most under 35s may want plant-based milks, most over 35’s still prefer the cow based version. It is, as you might say, a Millennial thing: a striking re-alignment of younger preferences towards options that are better for our health, better for the planet, and kinder as well to the animals we’re sharing it with. But the gap between old(ish) and young is also steadily narrowing, as we all become increasingly conscious of the environmental challenges posed by global warming. Eight out of ten people currently regard climate change as a major threat to their wellbeing (as well they might), and we can’t blame it all on the cows: food production is responsible for a staggering 25% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, and it strains the meaning of myopia to fail to do something about it.


A 2008 study published in Environmental Science and Technology, snappily titled “Food-Miles and the Relative Climate Impacts of Food Choices” (www, found that switching from beef and dairy products to a plant or egg based diet just one day a week would reduce emissions by more than the amount saved through buying all your provisions locally: so despite the urban myth that it's the impact of transporting food and collecting food that matters, it really isn’t…it's the food we consume that really matters, not to mention how we produce it (I’ll mention it anyway in deference to the cows).


Eco Hotels

That’s why, as the world’s first carbon neutral hotel brand, Eco Hotels offers a planet friendly diet to its guests: less meat based and more environmentally aware, part of a progressive program capable of making a real difference to our shared world. And given the recent sharp increase in hotel occupancy rates across the subcontinent, fuelled by the astonishing success of the country’s vaccination programme, there’s no better time to do it than now, and no better place to do it than India.