New Diets for Cows Can Stop Gas Emissions

Mathilde Nakken
November 29th 2016

We've all experienced that awkward moment when the body remembers about the beans we ate earlier. Humans are not the only ones who get a bit flatulent after eating certain foods. Cattle emanate 14.5 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions each year. To be exact, yearly 90 million metric tonnes of methane are burped and farted into the atmosphere with drastic effects on climate change. Researchers world wide are looking for ways to change the cow's diet. Oregano, seaweed and super grass, here how scientists are reprogramming cows guts.

In Denmark they added oregano to the cow's diet. The aim is not to make the milk taste like an Italian pasta sauce, they choose this herb because "oregano has essential oils with a mild antimicrobial called carvacrol, which can kill some of the bacteria in the cow's rumen that produce methane” says Kai Grevsen, researcher at Aarhus University.

At Aarhus University scientists are also developing a ‘super grass’. A new type bioengineered grass which should stop methane production inside the digestive track. Additionally, the super grass is engineered in such a way that it even increases the milk production. Don't get too excited, the Danish researches expect that we'll have to wait until 2024 before this new crop will grow in meadows world wide.


But why should a cow eat grass anyhow? This is the question asked by an Australian research group, when they found out that in the past cows enjoyed grazing along the shore, eating seaweed. In particular, they used to eat asparagopsis taxiformis, a red algae that had the effect of diminishing the methane production inside the stomach. This effect was caused by the high level of bromoform inside the algae. Adding three precent of this plant into the cow's diet can reduce the methane production up to 80 percent.

The down side of all researches is that they focusses on changing the micro organisms inside the rumen, which are essential to the well-being of the cow. Even the meat gets a different flavor when the animal fodder changes. So what now? Do we all have to become vegetarians eating flatulent bean dishes ourselves? Instead we could shift our meat production inside a lab, growing a steak in vitro. Got curious on cultured meat? Check out our project Meat the Future.

Source: Wired, Modern Farmer. Image: Daily Mail, Modern Farmer

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