Seaweed. Commonly referred to as “that green stuff” around sushi, it has blessed our stomachs with its deliciousness for decades. Besides its natural benefits and being the key to a good teriyaki chicken sushi roll, turns out the green wonder can sort out that burping and farting problem in cows as well! (not you…you wish stinkeroo).
11 years ago, a Canadian farmer noticed that his cows residing on a paddock closer to the sea were significantly more productive than other cows on the farm. This was due to the fact these particular cows were consuming seaweed washed up by recent storm events. Two Canadian researchers therefore conducted a study to uncover the effects of adding seaweed to cows diet habits, and found it not only improved their health and development but also reduced their methane emissions by approximately 20%. Who would have thought!
This breakthrough study alongside others inspired Professor of Aquaculture Rocky De Nys and others from the CSIRO too analyse the positive impact seaweed has on a cow’s methane production.
Now you might be shocked, why do I care about the methane produced from a cows fart? Well agricultural emissions represented 15.7% of Australia’s total net greenhouse emissions in the 2004 National Greenhouse Gas Inventory. Extremely high quantities of methane are produced during fermentation in cattle resulting in farting and burping which subsequently makes methane the largest contributor of greenhouse gas emissions from the agriculture industry.
Now the scary part is that when we hear about global warming we tend to think carbon dioxide (CO2), yet unfortunately other pollutants are also of concern, in particular methane gas (CH4). When comparing the two pollutants, the global warming potential of methane is 25 times more powerful and is more effective in trapping radiation, although its lifetime in the atmosphere is shorter.
Now you might be thinking “OMG THE COWS ARE TOO BLAME, I BET THEY KNEW ABOUT THEIR TOXIC, CLIMATE KILLING FARTS ALL ALONG, THEM AND THE GOVERNMENT”. Whoa, steady cowboy, before you start the first Cow World War (CWW) which we would surely lose, ease up for a second because our science friends may have some solutions.
De Nys found by adding only tiny portions of dried seaweed (specifically Asparagopsis taxiformis) into the diet of cows can significantly reduce methane produced by up to 99%.
Throughout the test approximately 20 types of seaweed were trialed, Asaparagopsis taxiformis (found off the coast of Queensland) proved highly successful as it contains a naturally occurring chemical which acts against predation in the ocean. This chemical trait proved effective during the process of methane production.
Ultimately these findings were established by constructing fake cow stomachs in a specially controlled laboratory instead of resorting straight to live cow testing. The fake stomachs were designed using double walled glass sealed with temperature controlled water in between. PH maintenance, addition of nutrients and waste removal was conducted regularly to best replicate a cow’s stomach. Additionally researchers added a lower quality of seaweed into the diet of sheep and found similar positive results, indicating an 85% reduction in methane gas emissions.
Although finding a possible effective method to reduce methane production in agriculture is a significant win, were their seems to be solutions only comes problems, seaweed production.
In order to actively implement the methane reduction method Asaparagopsis needs to be grown and harvested on an industrial scale too feed millions of cows across the globe Particularly because we sure as shitake mushroom aren’t using my precious sushi seaweed.
In Australia approximately 10% of the beef and dairy industry would need over 30 000 tonnes annually to feed its stock. The American agriculture market on the other hand would need about 300 000 tonnes annually. Currently, seaweed that is being mass produced by farmers is not suitable too reduce methane gas emissions in agriculture (still good for sushi though), however Asaparagopsis is being grown for a diverse range of purposes including cosmetic and medical research.
So, it might not seem like a big deal to some of you, but honestly it really is a big deal for all us! Even today we are beginning to feel the economic and environmental implications of global warming and climate change. Therefore if it means growing a shitake ton of seaweed and feeding it to the moo moos to ease up their toxic, climate killing farts and burps, then let’s get too it!
Otherwise option 2: Cow World War…