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Researchers Hope Seaweed Will Quiet Gassy Cows

Asparagopsis taxiformis, a species of red algae, can reduce the amount of methane that livestock release in the atmosphere (Jean-Pascal Quod/Wikimedia Commons).

The race is on to figure out how to farm red algae on a large scale to help reduce global warming due to cow burps.

Researchers have recently discovered that adding a particular tropical species of red algae to cattle feed nearly eliminates the amount of methane they give off during digestion.

Methane is about 30 times worse than carbon dioxide when it comes to heat-trapping effects in the atmosphere.

The U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization says livestock contributes 14.5 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, and 44 percent of the total amount of methane overall.

California passed a bill in 2016 that requires a 40 percent reduction in methane emissions by 2030.

Researchers in Australia showed that cows and cattle that ate feed with 2 percent seaweed added reduced methane burps by nearly 100 percent.

Before seaweed feed additives can become standard industry practice, there are some big hurdles to overcome.

The species known to reduce methane emissions only grows in tropical waters, and so far it only comes from the wild.

But researchers in California and other temperate areas hope to find local strains that have the same effect.

And the compound linked to methane reduction, bromoform, is classified as a probable human carcinogen.

The amount used in cattle feed would be very low, but the link could hamper consumer enthusiasm.

It also could turn out to be a virulent invasive species if the tropical kind is cultivated in other parts of the world.

Read More:

  • Can We Grow Enough Seaweed to Help Cows Fight Climate Change? (Civil Eats)
  • The Race Is On To Cultivate A Seaweed That Slashes Greenhouse Emission From Burping Cows, Other Livestock (The San Diego Union-Tribune)


Chad Bouchard

Chad Bouchard is a veteran reporter and WFIU alum who has covered wild and wooly beats from Indonesia to Capitol Hill. His radio work has aired on NPR, PRI and Voice of America, and his writing has appeared in The Sunday Telegraph and Scientific American’s health magazine, Lives. He has also spent a lifetime gardening, foraging and eating weird stuff.

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