Scientists Discover Seaweed Species That Stops Cows from Emitting Methane

"Globally, methane is responsible for 30% of global warming. Of that, livestock, such as cattle, account for about one-third of all methane emissions," reports CBS News. But researchers discovered that feeding seaweed to cattle would reduce greenhouse gases by as much as 40%, they're told by a Canadian farmer named Joe Dorgan who first discovered the connection: Digesting roughage requires extra digestion from cows and causes cows to burp more. Those burps emit methane, a heat-trapping greenhouse gas that's 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide. In a year, a cow emits as much greenhouse gas as a small car. Because animal numbers have skyrocketed to help feed a growing human population, livestock now accounts for 15% of global emissions. The increase motivated chief scientist at Futurefeed, Rob Kinley, who worked with Dorgan on his organic certification 15 years ago, to find a seaweed species with even more methane-reducing power. "We started testing seaweeds from coastal Australia, and it wasn't long before the Asparagopsis species showed up, and it showed up in a big way. So big that we didn't even believe what we were seeing," Kinley said. "It took multiple runs of testing this before we believed what we were seeing, which was we couldn't find methane anymore." Kinley's research showed Asparagopsis, a common type of red seaweed, has the potential to virtually eliminate methane emissions from livestock. But there are some obstacles to overcome — it's not easy to harvest from the ocean, so scientists are experimenting with farming it. Kinely's team, along with others like Josh Goldman, project leader at Greener Grazing, are getting much closer to perfecting the techniques.... Still, there's the challenge of encouraging cow owners to use the seaweed supplement. For that, Goldman says there's an incentive: adding seaweed to a cow's diet means they consume less food. And, he says, dairy farmers and cattle ranchers will likely be able to cash in, selling carbon credits for the emissions they reduce. Eliminating almost all methane from almost all cow's on Earth "would have a tremendous impact, roughly equivalent to eliminating all the emissions from the U.S., or the equivalent of taking every car off the road globally," Goldman said. "It's clear that methane reduction from seaweed is effective in the short-term," the article concludes, "but there's some fear that its effects may diminish over time as the cow's digestive systems adapt."

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