Surfing and Lawns: How seaweed helps cows become better climate citizens

Getting calories from grass isn’t easy. That’s why cows and other ruminants, like goats and sheep, have many compartments in their stomach to help them digest their food. One of those stomachs has microorganisms that help break down plant matter into a more digestible form. The process, known as small intestine fermentation, also produced methane, a potent greenhouse gas that heats the atmosphere 80 times more efficiently than carbon dioxide during its first 20 years in the atmosphere, before breaking down into other compounds. A single cow grazing around 250-500 liters of methane a day. About 1 billion won Cows used in the global meat and dairy industry, and in combination with other animals raised for livestock, are responsible for the release of methane equivalents of some 3.1 gigatons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere every year. If cows were a country, they would be the world third largest greenhouse gas emissions, behind China and the US, and ahead of India.
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At the COP26 climate conference held in Glasgow last week, more than 105 countries committed to reducing methane emissions to 30% by 2030. Most of the country’s commitments focus on reducing their oil, gas and coal industries, which are responsible the third day anthropogenic methane emissions – only a handful of plans focus on addressing methane sources in agriculture, which contribute 42% of total global greenhouse gas emissions.

Read more: The methane pledge is the first good news of COP26. Nothing else will be as easy as

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the United Nations’ leading climate agency, recommends people to eat less meat and milk as a way to reduce global warming. But getting people to change the way they eat is very difficult. Solving the problem at its source — in this case, the cows themselves, can be much easier.

Scientists have developed a variety of approaches to capturing cow emissions, from masks fitted to cow’s nose limit the amount of methane that burping animals give off to the atmosphere ingeniously, but erroneously, plastic backpack Designed to trap cow farts. (For what it’s worth, most of the methane produced by cows is expelled through belching, only 5% escaping from the other end.) Farmers are selectively breeding lower-wasting cows, and several veterinary scientists are working on Vaccine targets the methane-producing bacteria in the cow’s gut while leaving more beneficial (and less polluting) bacteria in its wake.

However, the best solutions start at the source, with feed additives. In September Brazil and Chile approved the use Bovaer, a synthetic feed supplement developed by the Dutch bioscience company DSM reduces methane emissions in dairy cows by 30% and up to 80% in beef cattle. But the supplement is an additional cost for farmers, and unless there is an incentive — through government regulations, subsidies or market demand — its use is not likely to be widespread. .

Agricultural scientists are also looking for cheaper and more effective natural solutions. They may have discovered it in an ingredient rarely found near cow pastures: seaweed.

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In 2020, Australian researchers found that replacing 3% of a cow’s diet with a seaweed of Australian origin resulting in a 80% reduction in methane emissions. Now researchers in Ireland and the UK are trying to find out if their local variant behaves similarly. Scientists at the Institute for Global Food Security at Queen’s University Belfast are launching a €2 million project to monitor the impact of feeding dairy cows with local seaweed. Sharon Huws, a professor of animal science and microbiology and lead scientist on the project, said she hopes to reduce methane emissions by at least 30% and hopes to see more position.

“Using seaweed is a natural, sustainable way to reduce emissions, and has the potential to be replicated,” says Huws. “There’s no reason why we can’t grow seaweed.”

Read more: Cows can feed the planet

Feeding cows with seaweed seems like a big drop compared to the overwhelming impact of greenhouse gas emissions globally. That’s not it, say Sarah Ann Smith, director of the so-called “superpollution” (meaning methane) program at the US-based Clean Air Force Task Force. Even a 30 percent cut in emissions from gut fermentation would lead to a significant reduction in atmospheric methane — about 11 percent of the total. This is on par with the annual emissions generated by all global landfills – this creates a source that is a lot more complicated to deal with. “The reality,” she said, “is that we are at a point of climate change where we have to throw all this spaghetti against the wall and see what sticks.” Current projections suggest that global meat consumption will increase, she pointed out. “We no longer have the luxury of picking and choosing, we need all the solutions on the table.”

Or, as the case may be, in a feeder. | Surfing and Lawns: How seaweed helps cows become better climate citizens

Aila Slisco

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