Cows are wrecking the planet. How? Through farting. These ruminant animals digest their cellulose-loaded food with the help of bacteria in the stomach in a process called enteric fermentation, which is why they love grass. The end result is methane, a greenhouse gas that packs, ton for ton, thirty times the disastrous punch of carbon dioxide, of which the average cow produces some 200 to 500 liters per day. Combine it with their impolite burps, Earth’s total of about 1.5 billion cows can spew seven billion metric tonnes of unwanted air every year (ew). That’s more than global car and airplane traffic emissions combined!
Of course, there are always solutions to this problem- you could quit eating beef, go vegan, or sprinkle some seaweed to our livestock feed. Yes. Seaweed.
A research by Rocky De Nys and colleagues from James Cook University in Australia and Robert Kinley of CSIRO, tested 20 different species of seaweed to artificial cow stomachs to see how it reacts. Grass is fed to this fake tummy, fermentation happens and scientists are able to measure the methane excreted. One type of these seaweeds, Asparagopsis taxiformisI
, is a “real stand-out” as described by De Nys. For it reduced methane production by 99 percent. There are also experiments in sheep that if dried Asparagopsis taxiformis
I to two percent of the total feed, methane productions are reduced by70 percent.
The reason Asparagopsis taxiformisI is so effective is because it contains bromoform, a chemical that interferes with the digestive enzymes responsible for methane production. There are also seaweed experiments in Canada that showed cows who periodically eat storm-tossed seaweed are healthier and heftier than cows who don’t eat the stuff.
Unfortunately, we just don’t make enough of this weed. Scientists say that it would take 6000 hectares or 15000 acres of seaweed farms just to supply only 10 percent of Australia’s 29 million cattle. But it’s possible, right? Together, we can make a difference…by feeding seaweed to cows so they can fart less.