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