“Moo” isn’t the only sound coming out of cows’ mouths—if you spend enough time around them, odds are you’ll also hear them burp, and that’s bad news for climate change. Research has shown that agriculture is responsible for 10 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States, and about half of those emissions come from cattle that release methane into the atmosphere, mostly by belching.
While some people advocate eating less meat to help lower cattle’s contribution to climate change, a group of researchers took a different approach—studying how to reduce methane production in cows by tinkering with their diet. Plenty of land can’t sustain crops, so these researchers expected cattle on grazing land to continue being an important part of feeding the world’s population for many years to come. Luckily, they knew that red seaweed could inhibit an enzyme in cows’ digestive systems that contributes to methane production. But how much burping could a little seaweed really reduce, and would it have any negative effects?
Over the course of 5 months, the scientists supplemented the diets of 21 beef cattle with seaweed and tracked their weight gain and methane emissions. They found that these steers gained same amount of weight but emitted 82 percent less methane than their herd mates. A taste-test panel determined that there was no difference between the taste of beef from cattle fed with seaweed and cattle fed a seaweed-free diet. Seaweed and cows may not seem like a match made in heaven, but it’s a combination that might do some good for the Earth.