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Seaweed could be the solution to cows’ climate-destroying fart problem

Researchers are trialing the feeding of seaweed to livestock to solve the issue of methane production from cows.

A team of scientists from the CSIRO and James Cook University in Townsville are working in collaboration with Meat and Livestock Australia to help solve the issue of methane production from cattle.

The agricultural industry is one of the world’s leading producers of greenhouse gases, with cattle being the most environmentally detrimental. The solution may be sitting in our oceans with seaweed – specifically red asparagopsis – found to remove the methane from the gut of ruminant animals like cows.

Image: ABC

“The proof of concept was done in feedlots,” lead researcher Rob Kinley said. “The next step was to prove the science in the paddock with grazing animals, such as dairy cows.”

“That is where our work is going to focus on in the coming year and beyond because they represent 90% of the actual cattle in Australia,” Dr Kinley said.

Ermias Kebreab, a researcher on the environmental impact of livestock at the University of California, Davis, has found that sprinkling 85g (3oz) of seaweed per day into a cow’s feed cuts methane production by more than 80%. The amount is low enough that cows can’t detect it, and the meat carried no aftertaste.

Methane that is produced by the natural rumination process is extremely harmful to the environment. When released into the atmosphere, methane traps heat, aiding the process of global warming on a large scale.

“This presents a huge opportunity for us to reduce our contribution to global warming in the short term”, said Bojana Bajželj, a researcher in food sustainability science at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences.

However, reducing methane emissions from the agriculture industry is just one piece of the puzzle. As consumers, we need to think about relying less heavily on animal products as a whole and supplementing our diets with more environmentally friendly alternatives.