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Environment

Scientists Are Making Grass So Cows Burp Less Because Climate Change

In Denmark, scientists have chosen an interesting route to combat climate change. Their target is not, as we might have guessed, the much maligned cow farts.

According to research at ARGresearch in New Zealand, the burps of ruminant animals, such as cows, sheep and other grass-eaters, are the real antagonists. In a single day a cow can release between thirty to fifty gallons of methane, 95 percent of which comes from the cow’s mouth.

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So while some places (cough, cough, California) are cracking down on cow farts, researchers at Aarhus university are tackling the problem at the other end. More precisely, they’re trying to make cows less gaseous in general by re-engineering the grass that is the staple of their diet.

The research team claims to be using “DNA technology”, a term which they’ve yet to unpack. In 2008, however, scientists at Australian company Gramina developed a similar solution by altering the quantity of a molecular component in the grass, lignin. Grasses with high amounts of lignin are tougher to digest, and therefore produce more gas. The team at Gramina called their proprietary GMO-grass technology a “dimmer switch” for lignin, and its likely that the researchers at Aarhus have struck upon the same approach.

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“It is simply a better diet for the cow, which can utilise the feed more efficiently” said Torben Asp, a senior researcher on the project. Asp also believes that a more efficiently digested feed will lead to increased productivity for dairy cows.

That’s why Denmark’s environment and food ministry has bankrolled $2 million dollars for the project, to be completed in seven to eight years. With an estimated 1.5 billion cows on the planet, burping up to over 40 billion gallons of methane a day, it’s no wonder Danish environment and food Minister Esben Lund Larsen called cows one of agriculture’s “main culprits” when it comes to releasing climate gases.

I guess we can excuse him for not clarifying from what end.