What's one of the major causes of global warming? Belching cows!
Sounds like the punchline to a sophomoric joke. But it's true.
Thankfully, however, help might be on the way.
A 2006 report, "Livestock's Long Shadow," from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations asserts that "the livestock sector emerges as one of the top two or three most significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems, at every scale from local to global."
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To cut to the chase, the problem is methane. While methane may be less prevalent in the air than carbon dioxide, the greenhouse gas and chief culprit of global warming, methane is 23 times more potent as a heat-trapping gas.
Cows release significant amounts of methane as they chew their cud and belch or, to put it as delicately as possible, break wind. They also release nitrous oxide and ammonia when they deposit manure all over the place, but that is a separate problem.
Nonetheless, the cause of that unpleasant aroma that emanates from the stockyard also is bad for the environment.
To date, the most common suggestion for dealing with this problem is to convince everyone to become a vegetarian. That not only would reduce the amount of gas produced by cows but also free up a great deal of land for agricultural uses or simply green space.
But the solution is impractical. The carnivores among us are too fond of their cheeseburgers and steaks.
Thankfully, however, another possible solution has been discovered. A research team at Obihiro University of Agriculture and Veterinary Medicine in Hokkaido, Japan, might have found a way to reduce gas emissions from cows. The researchers discovered that supplementing the animals' diet with cysteine, a type of amino acid, and nitrate can reduce methane production.
Scientists hit upon the relationship between nitrate, commonly found in fertilizer, and methane generation when they studied the mass poisoning of a herd of dairy cattle. The team found that feeding animals cysteine and nitrate not only cut the methane but also helped prevent them from being poisoned.
The study showed the nitrate does not affect milk or meat quality. Also, the amount of cysteine a cow needs each day costs less than $1. Researchers speculate that the chemicals could be added to new feeds that would help combat global warming.
That sounds like a worthy proposition. We would welcome a plan to reduce global warming that also would make cattle herds smell a little sweeter.
Japanese researchers may have come up with a way to reduce methane produced by cows.
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