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Agriculture cow-cattle-fart-farts-flatulence-ucd-methane

Published on March 30th, 2009 | by Andrew Williams

14

Fish Oil Diet Could Curb Greenhouse Gases From Cow Farts

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March 30th, 2009 by  

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Irish scientists have discovered that adding just a small amount of fish oil to the diet of cattle can vastly reduce the amount of methane produced by, ahem…cow farts.

Climate scientists have long known that, pound for pound, methane is 20 times more powerful than carbon dioxide at trapping the suns rays, making it a highly potent greenhouse gas. An incredible 900 billion tonnes of the noxious fumes are produced each year by methanogen bacteria that live in the digestive systems of ruminants such as cattle, sheep and goats.

Now the team, from University College Dublin (UCD), have figured out that including just 2 percent fish oil in the bovine diet can drastically reduce flatulence, largely due to the omega 3 fatty acids in the oil. In fact, in an experiment with three cows, methane output was cut by a remarkable 21 percent.

Speaking about the results, UCD researcher Lorraine Lillis said, “The fish oil affects the methane-producing bacteria in the rumen part of the cow’s gut, leading to reduced emissions. Understanding which microbial species are particularly influenced by changes in diet and relating them to methane production could bring about a more targeted approach to reducing methane emissions in animals.”

However, she also highlighted a possible shortcoming of the scheme saying, “There may be some trade-off as fish oil is expensive and difficult to get” and could put undue pressure on fish populations.

Image Credit – foxypar4 via flickr

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About the Author

is a writer and freelance journalist specialising in sustainability and green issues. He lives in Cardiff, Wales.



  • Peter

    Only a very small amount of methane produced by cows comes from their farts. Most comes from rumination (or burps for the childish such as the author). I question whether any treatment could reduce methane production by 21% by treating their flatulence. If you read what the researchers where quoted as saying, the work on fish oil addresses a cows burp, not her fart. People aren’t stupid and cute inaccuracies like this are why green issues struggle to go mainstream. Eating grass doesn’t affect methane production as it is the bacteria in the rumen that generates the gas.

  • Peter

    Only a very small amount of methane produced by cows comes from their farts. Most comes from rumination (or burps for the childish such as the author). I question whether any treatment could reduce methane production by 21% by treating their flatulence. If you read what the researchers where quoted as saying, the work on fish oil addresses a cows burp, not her fart. People aren’t stupid and cute inaccuracies like this are why green issues struggle to go mainstream. Eating grass doesn’t affect methane production as it is the bacteria in the rumen that generates the gas.

  • M

    If they eat grass, they don’t need fish oil supplements – in fact, their meat has an omega balance closer to fatty fish than to grain-fed beef. They also have high levels of CLA, available ONLY from grass-fed animal products and a potent anti-inflammatory and anti-carcinogen.

  • M

    If they eat grass, they don’t need fish oil supplements – in fact, their meat has an omega balance closer to fatty fish than to grain-fed beef. They also have high levels of CLA, available ONLY from grass-fed animal products and a potent anti-inflammatory and anti-carcinogen.

  • Uncle B

    As the ” cheap oil era” draws to a close, and OPEC countries reduce production to increase their personal incomes, and oil creeps steadily past $50.00 a bbl, towards an OPEC promise of over $75.00 bbl, Americans will have to learn to eat pork, fish, turkey, or even kangaroo in their Big Mac’s because beef takes oil to produce! SEE:

    “Cattle are fed prodigious quantities of corn. At a feedlot of a mere 37,000 cows, 25 tons of corn are dumped every hour. It takes 1.2 gallons of oil to make the fertilizer used for each bushel of that corn. Before a cow is slaughtered, she will eat 25 pounds of corn a day; by the time she is slaughtered she will weigh more than 1,200 pounds. In her lifetime she will have consumed, in effect, 284 gallons of oil. Today’s factory-raised cow is not a solar-powered ruminant but another fossil fuel machine.” SEE: http://www.earthsave.org/environment/foodchoices.htm

    The added expense of a fish oil might be replaced by adding flax into the cow’s diet, since flax is oily and high in omega 3 oils in particular, but adding expenses as petroleum oil goes up in price will not likely be welcomed, especially in the harder times coming now that GM and Chrysler, and all their suppliers face certain bankruptcy! We will soon be eating artificially beef flavored cellulose burgers, fried sparingly in veggie fats, on high roughage buns (sawdust) with lots of veggies grown in humamure fed hydroponics and aquaponics installations. We never adapted well to “Fish burgers” but may be enticed to eat “Fish ‘n Chips” using fish from humanure fed aquaponics units, if the price is right and we are hungry enough! The great republican depression (GRD) is warping our very lives in ways we may not adapt well to, and some of us really will die by the wayside in this class struggle the Uber-rich are winning hands down, and the “proletariat” (that’s us) are losing with disastrous consequences. We are urban based slaves of “The Man” and he has deserted us for little yellow peasant ladies who toil 12 hours a day, 7 days a week, in the sweat shops of Asia, and return to their own greatest richness, the peasant farm, when burned out and broken by the capitalist machine, and they eat only rice – cheaper indeed! Just look at those huge profit margins, larger dividends! Way to Go America! Screw the World! Screw yourself!

  • Uncle B

    As the ” cheap oil era” draws to a close, and OPEC countries reduce production to increase their personal incomes, and oil creeps steadily past $50.00 a bbl, towards an OPEC promise of over $75.00 bbl, Americans will have to learn to eat pork, fish, turkey, or even kangaroo in their Big Mac’s because beef takes oil to produce! SEE:

    “Cattle are fed prodigious quantities of corn. At a feedlot of a mere 37,000 cows, 25 tons of corn are dumped every hour. It takes 1.2 gallons of oil to make the fertilizer used for each bushel of that corn. Before a cow is slaughtered, she will eat 25 pounds of corn a day; by the time she is slaughtered she will weigh more than 1,200 pounds. In her lifetime she will have consumed, in effect, 284 gallons of oil. Today’s factory-raised cow is not a solar-powered ruminant but another fossil fuel machine.” SEE: http://www.earthsave.org/environment/foodchoices.htm

    The added expense of a fish oil might be replaced by adding flax into the cow’s diet, since flax is oily and high in omega 3 oils in particular, but adding expenses as petroleum oil goes up in price will not likely be welcomed, especially in the harder times coming now that GM and Chrysler, and all their suppliers face certain bankruptcy! We will soon be eating artificially beef flavored cellulose burgers, fried sparingly in veggie fats, on high roughage buns (sawdust) with lots of veggies grown in humamure fed hydroponics and aquaponics installations. We never adapted well to “Fish burgers” but may be enticed to eat “Fish ‘n Chips” using fish from humanure fed aquaponics units, if the price is right and we are hungry enough! The great republican depression (GRD) is warping our very lives in ways we may not adapt well to, and some of us really will die by the wayside in this class struggle the Uber-rich are winning hands down, and the “proletariat” (that’s us) are losing with disastrous consequences. We are urban based slaves of “The Man” and he has deserted us for little yellow peasant ladies who toil 12 hours a day, 7 days a week, in the sweat shops of Asia, and return to their own greatest richness, the peasant farm, when burned out and broken by the capitalist machine, and they eat only rice – cheaper indeed! Just look at those huge profit margins, larger dividends! Way to Go America! Screw the World! Screw yourself!

  • http://rookiemoms.com RookieMom Heather

    ummm, what would happen if cows just ate GRASS or something more like their natural diet? Just wondering.

  • http://rookiemoms.com RookieMom Heather

    ummm, what would happen if cows just ate GRASS or something more like their natural diet? Just wondering.

  • russ

    right – poor fish!

    But, maybe scientists can use this as a basis to develop an alternative.

  • russ

    right – poor fish!

    But, maybe scientists can use this as a basis to develop an alternative.

  • Eric

    As the article states, fish oil is prohibitively expensive, therefore they should switch to hemp seed which contains high levels of Omega 3 and Omega 6. To those who may not be aware, hemp is NOT marijuana, and completely legal to grow anywhere but the U.S. Also it could be given to them in grain form which should be easier then making it an additive.

  • Eric

    As the article states, fish oil is prohibitively expensive, therefore they should switch to hemp seed which contains high levels of Omega 3 and Omega 6. To those who may not be aware, hemp is NOT marijuana, and completely legal to grow anywhere but the U.S. Also it could be given to them in grain form which should be easier then making it an additive.

  • http://islandinthenet.com Khürt

    What’s the side effect of feed an omnivorous diet to an herbivore?

  • http://islandinthenet.com Khürt

    What’s the side effect of feed an omnivorous diet to an herbivore?

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