Selecting Cows That Fart Less Could Help Save The Planet


Dami Olonisakin

Editorial Assistant


Who me? DanVostok/Shutterstock

Just like us, cows have to burp and fart, but unfortunately, when they do it they release methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, which is, of course, a huge contributor towards climate change.

The good news? Scientists have come up with a solution to make cows more planet-friendly. Their aim is to selectively breed cows that have better digestive systems and won’t produce as much methane.


Previous research has shown that when cows are given a better diet, it reduces the methane they give off, which of course, lowers the harm the cows – through no fault of their own – cause.

Research in the journal Climatic Change earlier this year suggests that if the US cut down on its beef-eating ways and replaced it with beans it could reduce greenhouse gas emissions and even achieve between 46-74 percent of the reduction needed to meet the US' 2020 greenhouse gas target – despite a current administration that really isn't helping.

“This is probably the first time that beans have been identified as a gas-reducing measure,” Helen Harwatt, a former research fellow at Loma Linda University, and lead author of the study told Popular Science

“What this article attempts to show in a very clear way is that a single change in a food habit could have a dramatic effect on greenhouse gas production,” added Joan Sabaté, executive director of Loma Linda University’s center for nutrition. “The nation could achieve more than half of its greenhouse gas reduction goals without imposing any new standards on automobiles or manufacturing.”


However, scientists have outlined an idea in PLOS Genetics to experiment with the microbes that live on the inside of the cow’s digestive tract, to see if they can reduce the amount of methane they produce.

Scientists found last year that a cow's genes influence the microbial communities found in their guts, including archaea and bacteria, the main producers of methane. It could lead to farmers selecting which cows to breed, such as those with a low archaea-to-bacteria ratio, meaning less methane. 

This new study has been hailed as "the first step towards low-emission cattle, which will become increasingly important in the face of growing global demand for meat” according to the journal, after winning its prestigious genetics research prize.

[H/T: Popular Science]


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