Burping cattle cause global warming; scientists are trying to reduce methane in animal belches – Here’s how

Burping cattle make the planet warmer and scientists have been devising diets to reduce methane emissions from cattle belches. A team from Haryana’s Central Institute for Research on Buffaloes has created a diet supplement that cuts methane emissions from ruminants like cows and buffaloes. The scientists are now gearing up to file for regulatory approval.

Updated Dec 19, 2022 | 05:11 PM IST

Cattle or ruminant animals – those like cows and goats etc that are able to digest plant-based food by fermenting it – are a major source of methane generated by human activity.

Photo : iStock
The methane released by burping cattle is one of the leading causes of global warming. Sometimes the methane released by cattle is equated with the amount of emissions caused by cars and industries but that is a simplistic inference. One needs to differentiate between traditional methods and more industrial driven livestock production .
However, the fact remains that livestock are a significant source of greenhouse gases whether directly or indirectly.
A UN report in 2006 noted that with increasing affluence, people around the world were consuming more meat and dairy products and with the years, this number was projected to grow.
Cattle or ruminant animals – those like cows and goats etc that are able to digest plant-based food by fermenting it – are a major source of methane generated by human activity. Since these animals are reared in large numbers for human consumption, it is ultimately an artificial activity that contributes to methane pollution.
Methane is a more warming greenhouse gas but its presence in the atmosphere fades faster than carbon dioxide (generated by transportation and industries) that lingers in the air for centuries.
In 2021, over 100 countries signed the Global Methane Pledge vowing to cut methane emissions by 30% from 2020 levels by the end of the decade. The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says that human activity alone emitted 640 million tonnes of methane in 2021.
A group of scientists from Haryana’s Central Institute for Research on Buffaloes have been trying to find dietary remedies for cattle to help bring down methane emissions. Avijit Dey and his colleagues at the institute produced a supplement that is a concoction of ingredients such as Indian cherry and Indian elm leaves, garlic oil, mustard oil, cottonseed oil, sodium nitrate and magnesium sulphate, Down To earth reported.
Scientists across the world have raced to find solutions to the cattle belch problem.
In 2021, the EU approved a feed supplement, Bovaer, developed by Dutch bioscience company Royal DSM. It claimed that the seaweed-based supplement reduced methane emissions from dairy cows by 30-80%.
However, scientists stress that the solutions should be local because shipping ingredients like a particular seaweed say from US to India would entail a larger carbon footprint and add to the problem they are seeking to solve.
A food supplement is considered a success if it can lower methane emissions by at least 20%. Dey’s team has proven that their feed supplement reduces emissions successfully – their next step is to get regulatory approval.
Ruminant animals have specialized digestive systems that help them break down cellulose rich plants to release energy. The plant material is taken to the rumen which is populated by microorganisms such as fungi, bacteria, protozoa and archaea. The archea combines CO2 and hydrogen released by the cellulose fermenting microbes to create methane. Dey’s team created a feed that targets the archea population and promoted the growth of beneficial bacteria.
However, scientists need to be careful that diet supplements do not introduce additional problems to the health of the animals.
next story