According to the report written by United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), in 2011, methane from livestock contributes ~39% of all greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture. The report also suggest that 55% of the bulk of the emissions came from beef cattle. National Geographic reported two days ago that scientists are trying to reduce the seven billion metric tons of carbon dioxide emitted by cattle belches to the atmosphere every year. To put it into perspective, according to natgeo: “about 14.5 percent of anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions come from livestock. That is more that global car and airplane traffic emissions combined.”
Cows and other ruminant animals digest their cellulose rich food – such as grass – through enteric fermentation that utilizes stomach bacteria. This process of microbial metabolism produces methane as a by-product and the reason why cows are very gassy.
Ways to reduce the gassy contribution of cows to our anthropogenic emissions have been explored over the years. However, according to Francesco Tubiello, a natural resources officer for the FAO, to ask all of mankind to reduce the consumption of meat is not the most practical route to take. Many countries rely on their agriculture as a major drive for economy. In addition, the poorest countries are those who benefit most from meat consumption due to the scarce resources for protein and calories. In a study done in 2014 by Caro et al., it was suggested that eating a pound of beef contributes more greenhouse emission compared to burning a gallon of gasoline. According to Tubiello, the direction of meat consumption is only bound to increase over time.
There are many other ways suggested in order to reduce greenhouse emissions. Some of them are: changes in land use, reduce usage of fertilizers, or implementation of policies to reduce other anthropogenic emissions in various industries.
If you’re an extreme carnivorous, there is hope in sight. Ten years ago, Joe Dorgan, a dairy farmer in Seacow Pond, P.E.I., decided to convert the diet of his livestock to organic as a way to save money. He turned to seaweed – specifically, a red alga known as Asparagopsis taxiformis – to be the main source of minerals and vitamins of his livestock.
In a research study by Robert Kinley and Rocky De Nys that tested 20 different species of alga in artificial cow stomachs, found that a diet of Asparagopsis taxiformis reduced methane production by 99%. In addition, the same experiment done on sheep but with dried Asparagopsis taxiformis contributing to only 2% of the total feed showed a 70% reduction in methane production of sheep. According to De Nys, a sprinkle is all you need.
The future of cheeseburgers is bright, unless you’re not about that life.
- Kinley, R. D., de Nys, R., Vucko, M. J., Machado, L., & Tomkins, N. W. (2016). The red macroalgae Asparagopsis taxiformis is a potent natural antimethanogenic that reduces methane production during in vitro fermentation with rumen fluid. Animal Production Science, 56(3), 282-289.
- Caro, D., Davis, S. J., Bastianoni, S., & Caldeira, K. (2014). Global and regional trends in greenhouse gas emissions from livestock. Climatic Change, 126(1-2), 203-216.