Livestock produce 14.5% of human caused greenhouse gas emissions in the form of methane gas (Rupp, 2016). Methane is a by-product of digestion in cattle that packs a powerful punch. When compared to its carbon dioxide counterpart methane emissions are 21 times more potent (OECD, 2013). Each year global livestock produce seven billion metric tons of CO2 equivalents. These gas particles trap solar radiation in the earth’s atmosphere, warming the planet and causing serious shifts in global climate trends.
The simple solution is cutting beef from our diets, but the average Canadian consumed approximately 18 kilograms of beef last year alone (Canadian Cattlemen’s Association, 2016). Tantalizing events like Halifax Burger Week demonstrate society’s love of beef. In 2015, 70,000 burgers were sold over the course of the weeklong event (Destination Halifax, 2013). Thus, it is safe to say, that the livestock industry is not going anywhere any time soon; the old ‘silent but deadly’ fart joke has become all too real.
Luckily there is a solution in sight. PEI farmer Joe Dorgan stumbled upon a solution when he began feeding his cattle seaweed as a means to reduce cost on his organic farm (Bisset, 2016). The seaweed-munching cattle became heftier, healthier and generated more milk than their predecessors (Bisset, 2016). Further testing at Dalhousie’s faculty of Agriculture campus revealed that supplementing livestock diets with seaweed known to scientists as Asparagopsis taxiformis, could reduce methane in cows by 20 percent (Bisset, 2016). Presence of the seaweed interferes with the digestive enzymes in the cow’s stomach responsible for methane manufacture (Rupp, 2016). Thus, the cows continue to pass gas, in the absence of methane.
Seaweed based cattle feed holds promising potential for reducing methane emissions. Companies such as North Atlantic Organics have seized the opportunity to sell these seaweed-based products, on a domestic and international scale (Bissett, 2016). While seaweed farming has the potential for rapid expansion, current production is not substantive enough to meet the demands of Canadian livestock. Traditionally farmed seaweed has been used in cosmetics, pharmaceuticals and fertilizers, and the system has yet to shift to meet the needs of the livestock industry.
In the meantime, Canada’s beef sector is finding alternative ways to reduce their environmental impact. Research in genetics, nutrition, reproduction and herd management has resulted in a per capita decline in methane emissions amongst livestock. One kilogram of beef today creates 15% less greenhouse gas emissions than it did 30 years ago (Agri-Food Canada, 2017).
Cow farts may continue to be unpleasant, but with Asparagopsis taxiformis they are a whole lot less deadly.
Agri-Food Canada. (2017, January 31). Raising Climate Friendly Beef. Retrieved from http://www.agr.gc.ca/eng/about-us/publications/discover-agriculture/raising-climate-friendly-beef/?id=1465557058926
Bissett, K. (2016, December 2). Feeding Cows Seaweed could Substantially Reduce Greenhouse Gases. Huffington Post. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2016/12/02/seaweed-cows-greenhouse-gases_n_13373556.html
Canadian Cattlemen’s Association. (2016). Industry Stats. Retrieved from http://www.cattle.ca/resources/industry-stats/
Destination Halifax. (2015). Halifax Burger Week 2016. Retrieved from http://www.destinationhalifax.com/content/halifax-burger-week-2016
Kerckx, B. (n.d). Pixabay. Retrieved from https://pixabay.com/en/seaweed-algae-nature-red-green-513707/
Rupp, R. (2016, November 29). A Sprinkle of Seaweed Could Deflate Gasey Cows. National Geographic. Retrieved from http://www.nationalgeographic.com/people-and-culture/food/the-plate/2016/11/seaweed-may-be-the-solution-for-burping-cows/
OECD. (2013). Overview of Greenhouse Gases. Retrieved from https://stats.oecd.org/glossary/detail.asp?ID=285
Ulleo. (n.d.) Pixabay. Retrieved from https://pixabay.com/en/cow-head-cow-head-animal-livestock-1715829/
Blog Written By: Jordyn Stafford, Environmental Science & Sustainability Undergraduate student, Dalhousie University
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