Seaweed reduces methane output of cattle

26 March 2021 | Muriel Cozier

‘… livestock plays a vital role in feeding the 10 billion people who will soon inhabit the planet.’

Researchers from the University of California, US, have found that including ‘a bit of seaweed’ in beef cattle feed could reduce their methane emissions by as much as 82%

Publishing their research in the journal PLOS ONE; the team found that over the course of five months, cattle consuming doses of about 80 grams of seaweed gained as much weight as cattle on a regular diet, but they produced less methane.

The researchers had a similar outcome in 2018; when the diet of dairy cows was supplemented with seaweed for two weeks, and their methane emissions fell by more than 50%.  The seaweed inhibits an enzyme in the cow’s digestive system that contributes to methane production.

With the most recent study the researchers were able to ascertain that the reductions in methane were sustainable over a longer period. It was also found that consuming seaweed had no impact on the taste of the meat or milk from the cattle.

Ermias Kebreab, Professor and Sesnon Endowed Chair of the Department of Animal Science and director of the World Food Centre said; ‘Only a tiny fraction of the earth is fit for crop production. Much more land is suitable only for grazing, so livestock plays a vital role in feeding the 10 billion people who will soon inhabit the planet.’ Kebreab added nutrition had a huge role to play in finding a solution to livestock’s methane emissions. Agriculture is said to be responsible for 10% of greenhouse gas emissions in the US, with half coming from cows and other ruminants.

Scientists are now studying ways to farm the seaweed – Asparagopsis taxiformis – which was used in the study, as there is not enough available in the wild for broad application. They will also consider how farmers can feed the cattle seaweed while the animals are grazing on the open range.

DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0247820

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