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Bubbly-belly-bugging boffins battle bovine belch peril

Tesco agro-surveillance to ward off cow-burpocalypse

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In a desperate attempt to avoid all life on Earth being gradually suffocated by a growing global cloud of noxious cow-belch emissions, corporate chiefs have planted bugging devices on a herd of dairy cattle. The listening devices, it's hoped, may allow top-bracket scientists to sift valuable information from the creatures' rumbling, bubbling guts.

The news went mainstream this week thanks to quality UK news outlets the Sun and the Telegraph, but in fact they had been scooped by a matter of seven months or so by the Farmers Guardian, the real world's answer to the Country Gentleman's Pig Fertiliser Gazette of Blackadder fame. Covering the opening of the new Tesco Dairy Centre of Excellence back in January, agro-newshawk Joanne Pugh revealed the retail globocorp's plans to focus an intensive high-tech surveillance programme on the nation's cattle - all for their own good, of course.

Tesco and other agribiz execs discussed the development of "vocal tags where microphones can gauge the pitch of a cow ruminating. Any alteration to this pitch would identify a digestive problem". On top of this, there were plans to monitor cattle movements with "computer-based heat detection systems".

“By working in partnership we can ensure everything we do is right for cows and also makes perfect economic sense,” said Tesco bigwig Lucy Neville-Rolfe at the time.

Since then, crack supermarket surveillance operatives have monitored some 200 cattle intensively, recording and analysing every sound emitted by their volatile, planet-destroying digestive systems - and at times watching them on computer thermo-scan as well.

Not content with this, Tesco also collects large amounts of information on the possibly suspicious activities of cattle across the UK. Every farmer who wishes to sell milk to the supermarket mammoth must keep detailed files on each of his cattle, according to the Farmers Guardian.

It's hoped that the belly-bugging scheme in particular may allow bovine boffins to develop specialised feeds which would cut down on the amount of methane emitted from cows. Not only is the grassy gut-gas flammable - even explosive on occasion - but it is a fearsomely potent greenhouse gas, 25 times worse than carbon dioxide.

Pioneering Irish work has already established that feeding cattle fish-oil can yield a substantial cut in their methane emissions. This scheme is seen as rather expensive, however.

It would also be possible perhaps to implement a strategy of burning off surplus methane at the point of emission, cutting its environmental impact by 96 per cent and removing the fire and explosion hazard completely. The Reg has already called for a selfless campaign of fart-ignition by humans, but cows don't have the manipulative skill and grasp of environmental matters necessary to ignite their own vapours.

Truly environmentally-friendly farmers might institute a programme of manual cowbelch-lighting among their field personnel, but this would probably impose a crippling manpower burden. Even Prince Charles doesn't seem likely to stay the course.

“We are currently embarking on a number of research projects to reduce the carbon emissions from milk production,” said Tesco Director David North today.

In time, the Tesco belly-mike system may perhaps be hooked up to an automatic on-cow flare stack or patio-gas sequestration rig of some kind. ®

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