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Environment

These Sheep Are Being Bred to Burp and Fart Less — to Save the Planet

Cows and sheep are so gassy that they’re the primary cause of greenhouse gas emissions in New Zealand, while globally, the red meat industry is responsible for 14.5% to 18% of all emissions.

So scientists are working to get livestock to fart and burp less so that people can enjoy their burgers, steaks, and wool without killing the planet.  

A team of researchers from the agricultural company AgResearch in New Zealand recently bred sheep that release 10% less methane than the average sheep, according to the ABC.

Take Action: Stand Up for the Arctic

"We were looking … to see whether the trait was genetic and what the effect of breeding for low methane was, and whether there was effect on other health and production traits," lead researcher Suzanne Rowe told the ABC.

The team developed a breeding scheme over several generations to isolate certain traits, and then put the carefully bred sheep in containers that measure methane emissions over a one-hour period.

In addition to finding that the new sheep emitted 10% less methane, the team discovered that they also require less food, according to the ABC. That’s another environmental benefit, because it means raising these sheep is less resource-intensive.

Read More: Why You Should Probably Never Eat Red Meat Again

AgResearch plans to market the sheep in 12 to 24 months, the ABC reports.  

Rowe said that the sheep would be especially useful if New Zealand adopted a cap-and-trade market, which sets limits on how many emissions a company can release.

Either way, the country’s red meat industry wants to be carbon-neutral by 2030, and these new sheep could make that target more feasible, according to the ABC.

Elsewhere in the world, scientists have devised other methods to limit cattle emissions.  

In California, researchers found that feeding cows seaweed cuts greenhouse gas emissions by 99%.

Researchers in Denmark have also focused on diet rather than genetics, finding that feeding cows grass that’s low in lingen, which is hard to digest, creates less gas.

Read More: 6 Unexpected Products You Should Probably Avoid if You Love Animals

The best way to reduce to emissions from the meat industry, however, may be shrinking it. In fact, another team of scientists recently determined that going vegan is the best way to help the planet.

“A vegan diet is probably the single biggest way to reduce your impact on planet Earth, not just greenhouse gases, but global acidification, eutrophication, land use, and water use,” Joseph Poore, at the University of Oxford, UK, who led that research, told the Guardian. "It is far bigger than cutting down on your flights or buying an electric car.”

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