Seaweed could be the answer to drastically reducing dangerous global greenhouse emissions -- from cows. The microbes in the bovine gut that participate in digesting what the cow eats produces gas, methane to be precise. Cow flatulence notwithstanding, strangely, it is the methane emitted in cow burps that is at issue in global warming, according to some scientists. Released into the air with each bovine burp, methane absorbs heat from the sun.
It in turn warms the earth’s atmosphere, which makes it a greenhouse gas. Scientists seem to think that there millions of belching bovines worldwide are quite problematic, and that feeding seaweed to cattle can help alleviate climate change by reducing the methane gas they emit. Rocky De Nys, a scientist at James Cook University in Queensland, working with Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CISRO), has been studying the cow-methane climate change problem.
He cites experiments with about 20 species of seaweed and their effects upon cow gut microbes, finding that red seaweed is the most effective, capable of reducing emissions up to 99 percent per animal. Experiments included feeding red seaweed to sheep, as 2 percent of their whole diet, resulting in measurable differences of up to 50 to 70 percent less methane gas produced over a period of 72 days. Laboratory experiments with partial cow stomachs replicate successful outcomes as well, leading Nys to postulate that cows should also eat red seaweed.
Providing seaweed to the world’s bovine population consistently and sufficiently to make a difference in greenhouse emissions from the animals may prove to be more of a task than feeding a few sheep or experimenting with lab cultures. Harvesting red seaweed and rendering it available for use appears to be an enterprise in and of itself. Wild harvesting has been discounted as too expensive as well as lacking in enough resources to meet the global needs. The next step is to convince entrepreneurs to become seaweed farmers, willing and able to cultivate enough red seaweed to feed the world’s cattle; and, to convince cattle ranchers of the need to feed it to their stock.
Among the challenges facing the researchers, is not only convincing world cattle ranchers to buy into the concept of reducing bovine methane emissions but also convincing them that greenhouse gases are a threat. The argument over the reality of climate change produced by global warming still rages worldwide, with scientists and pundits choosing sides in the debate. Meanwhile, cows continue to belch methane gas, which continues to absorb heat from the sun and contribute to warming the atmosphere of the planet. Fresh seaweed sounds tasty and enticing, but impractical in real world cattle ranching.
Nys suggests using dried seaweed, sprinkled into cattle feed much like human’s sprinkle seasonings on their own food. It sounds a bit like gourmet bovine chow. In some cultures, an appreciative burp after a meal may still be viewed as a compliment to the chef. Maybe that isn’t such a good thing when that burp comes from a cow and contains deadly methane gas. I guess we can’t teach them it is impolite to burp, so perhaps we’d better feed them seaweed.