Cow pill could cut methane emissions

A pill that stops cows burping could be the answer to reducing methane emitted as the animals turn grass into milk, and which significantly contributes to climate change.

Methane produced by cows worldwide currently accounts for 4% of greenhouse gas emissions, and is set to grow in importance as populations and meat consumption go up.

Scientists from the University of Hohenheim in Stuttgard are working to develop a pill that, in combination with a special anti-flatulence diet, can reduce the amount of methane produced as part of the natural grass fermentation process in the cow’s stomach.

Climate change issues were the main driving force behind the research, which should also increase cows’ metabolism as the pill prevents some of the grass being turned into methane and lost, said Professor Winfried Drohner, who is leading the research.

The “rising awareness of increasing methane concentrations in the atmosphere and the role that methane plays in the greenhouse problem” was the principal reason he embarked on the research project, he told edie.

“Secondly, we found out that it is possible to reduce the level of methane released by varying the animals’ diet, using special feed ingredients and so on,” he said.

Professor Drohner’s test subjects will be fed large fist-sized pills that sit in their rumen – the first of the animal’s “four stomachs” – to reduce emissions of methane produced by bacteria found there.

The goal is to cut methane, increase metabolism and thus milk production, as well as improving the “wellbeing of the cow.”

Methane is over 20 times more effective at heating up the earth’s atmosphere than carbon dioxide but, as concentrations are much lower, it is responsible for around a fifth of the warming observed so far.

Cows and other ruminant livestock contribute just under 20% of total methane emissions caused by human activities, so are responsible for around 4% of the global warming phenomenon so far, scientists estimate.

Goska Romanowicz

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