Pharmaceuticals May Aid in Reducing Methane Emissions

Researchers in New Zealand are addressing the release of methane from cattle raised in commercial agriculture. This is relevant considering the growing attention given towards methane emissions contribution to climate change.

Cattle are ruminants which use bacteria and methanogens as part of their digestion process. In order to reduce the amount methane produced during this process the Kiwi research firm AgResearch have proposed four possible solutions:

1. Drug treatments. Developing drugs that would affect the methanogens that exist in the rumen chamber of a cow stomach but leave the remaining necessary digestive bacteria unaffected. This may prove difficult in cattle put out to pasture as it would require continuous treatments.

2. Vaccinations. Dr. Janssen of AgResearch has developed a vaccine that raises the antibodies in cattle that attack methanogens but only in test tubes for now.  

3. Breeding. Some cattle and other ruminants are the same size as others but produce less methane. They have smaller rumens and a lower tendency to burp leading to lower methane production. Certain ruminants produce up to 10 percent less methane and if breed to only produce lower emitting offspring could be a potential emissions reducing plan.

4. Diet. Feeding cattle and sheep a diet of forage rape and fodder beet, reduces methane emission by as much as 25% compared with the burps of grass fed animals. The downside is these plants do not regrow after grazing and require more maintenance.

None of these will solve the methane emissions problem completely but are steps in the right direction.

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