Methane Reduction Supplements Could Help Save Earth
The gases expelled from cows is no bull when it comes to climate change. Not just cows, actually, all livestock comprise the “largest source of methane from human-related activities,” and are the third largest source of methane in the U.S. according to the Environmental Protection Agency (2013 statistics) Agriculture is responsible for an estimated 14 percent of the world’s greenhouse gases. A significant portion of these emissions come from methane, which, in terms of its contribution to global warming, is 23 times more powerful than carbon dioxide.
Could a feed supplement hold a big part of the overall solution to the bovine flatulence problem? Perhaps so.
According to Science Magazine, a food supplement added to the diets of cows could reduce their gases by roughly 30%. It is called the 3NOP (3-nitrooxypropanol) compound, developed by DSM Nutritional Products from The Netherlands, one of the world’s leading suppliers of feed additives. The 3NOP supplement blocks an enzyme necessary to cause the last step of methane production by the microbes in the rumen (first stomach of the cow). Regulators are now reviewing the product.
This coincides with a study titled “An inhibitor persistently decreased enteric methane emission from dairy cows with no negative effect on milk production”, which was published by PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences) last month. From the study’s abstract:
Methane from enteric fermentation in the ruminant digestive system is a major contributor to anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions in the United States and worldwide. Methane is also a net loss of feed energy to the animal. This study was undertaken to investigate the effect of a methane inhibitor on enteric methane emissions from lactating dairy cows. The experiment demonstrated that, under industry-relevant conditions, the inhibitor persistently decreased by 30% enteric methane emissions, without negatively affecting animal productivity. The spared methane energy was partially used for tissue synthesis, which led to a greater body weight gain by the inhibitor-treated cows. If adopted, this mitigation practice could lead to a substantial reduction of greenhouse gas emissions from the ruminant livestock sector.
In recent years, the viability of this and other compounds has been discounted due to concerns about animal health, food safety or environmental impact. We will see if the powers-that-be will sacrifice some heavier cows in exchange for less greenhouse gases this time around.