What Can We Do About Cow-Caused Climate Change?

Because it's not all our fault: Almost a quarter of US methane emissions come from livestock in the form of burps and farts. Now, a study is looking into ways to reduce that output via selective breeding.

What's the Latest Development?


University of Aberdeen professor John Wallace is leading a project, Ruminomics, with the goal (as stated on its Web site) of "[c]onnecting the animal genome, gastrointestinal microbiomes and nutrition to improve digestion efficiency and the environmental impacts of ruminant livestock production." In other words, Wallace is trying to find out why some breeds of cattle emit more methane (in the form of burps and farts) more than others regardless of their diet. He believes the answer is located in the genome, and plans to test 1,400 cows between now and 2015.

What's the Big Idea?

Almost a quarter of methane emissions produced yearly in the US come from livestock, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Methane is an especially potent greenhouse gas, and can impact climate change even more strongly than carbon dioxide. Some companies have been tweaking the animals' diets in an attempt to reduce their output. In the US, some farmers use a special antibiotic (banned in Europe) that reduces gas by about 15 percent. A program like Ruminomics could give farmers and companies enough useful information so they can breed and select animals who produce less methane.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock.com

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