Belching cows: a register exercise

Last week, I gave a speech about methane emissions from food production during a Zoom session about consecutive.

This is a topic that gives rise to much hilarity in the British press, since it involves talking about belching and farting!

I thought this would be a good opportunity to create an exercise to help you work on register.


First of all, have a think about what features of language characterise a more formal register. If you were trying to raise the register of a text or speech, what would you try to include, and what would you try to avoid? Write a quick list.

  • include: to make a speech more formal, you’ll probably want to include longer sentences, more complex vocabulary, indirect or impersonal turns of phrase, Latinate words, passive voice.
  • avoid: avoid contracted forms, abbreviations, slang or colloquial vocabulary, fragments (rather than full sentences), and emotive language. You might also want to replace phrasal verbs with a more formal equivalent.

For more ideas, check this post about formal register.


I’ve adapted two articles from the Guardian and the Mirror about new types of ‘methane-suppressing’ livestock feed, and broken them down into paragraphs.

Your task is to rewrite each paragraph in a more formal register. There is of course no single ‘correct’ solution, since there are many ways to structure a sentence that expresses the same idea.

When you’re written your version, you can check mine!

Have a think about what features of the second paragraph make it sound more formal. How can you incorporate similar tricks or approaches into your interpreting?

Farting cows could be given “methane suppressants” to stop them breaking wind and fuelling global warming.

Cows in the UK could be given “methane blockers” to reduce their emissions of the greenhouse gas as part of plans to achieve the country’s climate goals.

The proposal was popular with farmers. It comes after a consultation that began in August about how new types of feed can stop cows belching and farting.

Farmers welcomed the proposal, which follows a consultation that began in August on how new types of animal feed product can reduce digestive emissions from the animals.

But green groups aren’t so keen. They think the beef and dairy industries also damage the environment in other ways, and the new feed proposal shows an obsession with ‘techno fixes’. Instead, people should be told to eat less meat.

However, green campaigners were sceptical, arguing that the move would not address the other major environmental harms resulting from the beef and dairy industries and showed a fixation on “techno fixes” rather than reducing consumption.

Note the link (‘however’ rather than ‘but’), the longer sentence, and the more indirect construction.

Methane from cattle burps and manure is a large part of GHG. Farm animals are blamed for about 14% of global carbon emissions created by human activity.

Methane from cattle burps and manure is a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions; cows and other farm animals are responsible for about 14% of human-induced climate emissions.

The Government’s net-zero growth plan said officials expects “high-efficacy methane-suppressing products” to be sold from 2025 and could force farmers to use them if they are proved to work.

The government says it wants as many farmers as possible to start using the new feed soon, as slashing harmful gases released into the atmosphere is key to meeting its legally-binding pledge for net-zero emissions by 2050.

The government said in its net zero growth strategy published last week that it expected “high-efficacy methane-suppressing products” to enter the market from 2025 and could force farmers to use them if they prove effective.

The government’s intention is to maximise uptake of such products for suitable cattle farm systems at pace, since a reduction of GHG emissions is a key component of the government’s legally-binding pledge to achieve net zero emissions by 2050.

The new feed additives are been tested in the UK, but it’s still not known how well they work.

Methane-suppressing products are being trialled in the UK, but have yet to yield evidence as to what extent they work.

Scientists have criticised the government for relying on unproven technologies to try to meet climate goals.

The government has been criticised by scientists for a reliance on unproven technologies to pursue its climate goals.

So far, there are no additives licensed in the UK that suppress methane. The FSA is in charge of licensing all animal feeds, and would have to do a proper risk assessment for each additive, to check its impact on animal health and welfare, food safety risks, risk to workers, and wider environmental risks. It would also need to assess how effective the products are before giving them the okay for use in feed to reduce methane.

At the moment, there are no additives licensed and available for use in the UK that suppress methane.

The Food Standards Agency is responsible for licensing all animal feeds and would have to carry out a robust risk assessments of the impacts of each additive on animal health and welfare, food safety risks, risk to workers, wider environmental risks, and of the efficacy of the products, before licensing them for use in feed to reduce methane.