Greenhouses gases like methane can be significantly curtailed from entering the atmosphere merely by introducing small amounts of seaweed in the fodder fed to livestock, claims a new research.
While carbon dioxide (CO2) is often blamed as the primary culprit of global warming, it is methane that’s way more harmful. Moreover, it appears the industries aren’t the primary polluters increasingly spewing this gas, but instead, it is barnyard animals like cattle and sheep. Fortunately, a simple addition to the fodder can significantly reduce the amount of methane that the livestock pushes out.
Methane has 36 times the global warming potential of CO2. This means steps to reduce methane production have a much better impact on planet Earth and helps tremendously in addressing the problem of pollution. Unfortunately, it is the herbivorous animals that were belching and farting most of the methane into the atmosphere, while environmentalists fought industries to curtail their greenhouse gas emissions.
The burps and farts of livestock are responsible for 44 percent of all human-caused methane, claim experts. In other words, it is the farm animals that have been quietly pumping a large amount of greenhouse gas that is way more polluting than CO2. In terms of sheer numbers, these seemingly harmless animals have been releasing 3.1 gigatons of methane through their burps and farts each year.
The entire European Union (EU) releases a little over that amount of CO2 each year. By adding seaweed to the livestock feed, animal breeders could effectively reduce the methane output by 2.17 gigatons of methane each year. The breeders could easily match the amount of CO2 the entire Indian subcontinent produces each year.
How can seaweed reduce methane released by farm animals? Research on the subject matter isn’t new, however, as Australian scientists made a breakthrough in late 2015 when they discovered that a particular type of local seaweed, called Asparagopsis taxiformis, reduces methane production by more than 99 percent. While the ability of the seaweed was proven in labs, scientists needed a viable solution on the field, and hence, researchers from James Cook University in Queensland field-tested the same, with fantastic results, said Rocky De Nys, a member of the research team.
“We have results already with whole sheep; we know that if Asparagopsis is fed to sheep at 2 percent of their diet, they produce between 50 and 70 percent less methane over a 72-day period continuously, so there is already a well-established precedent.”
The seaweed works because it produces a compound called bromoform (CHBr3), which blocks methane production by reacting with vitamin B12 at the last step, reported the Conversation. Essentially, the seaweed significantly disrupts the enzymes used by gut microbes, explained agriculture researcher Michael Battaglia. These microbes are the primary culprits that produce methane gas as waste during digestion.
There are close to a 100 million cattle in the United States alone. Hence, one can imagine how much methane they are quietly spewing out. Moreover, given the impact methane has on global warming, adding 2 percent of seaweed in their feed would mean a lot towards curtailing pollution and limiting global temperature rise, reported ABC News.
There are a few hurdles to implementing the solution that reduces methane output. Although a small amount of seaweed is required per animal, considering the sheer number of farm animals in existence today, it is a huge undertaking. According to researchers, hundreds of thousands of hectares would be required to cultivate the particular strain of seaweed.
Needless to say, with oceans under threat and countries quarreling over boundaries in international waters, large seaweed farms might not be possible. However, considering just how bad methane is as compared to CO2 and how it is the animals who are one of the primary polluters, the world just might need to unite and start producing the seaweed, note researchers.
[Featured Image by Fabrice Coffrini/Getty Images]