Recent research coming out of Australia has shown that adding a small amount of red seaweed to the diets of cows can reduce their methane emissions almost entirely.
Rob Kinley and Rocky De Nys of James Cook University conducted in vitro experiments to test the effects of dietary seaweed on methane production in the cow rumen. While most seaweed had methane reducing effects, they found that a particular type of seaweed, Asparagopsis taxiformis, could reduce methane production by as much as 99% with just a 2% seaweed addition to the cow’s diet.
The researchers’ work was initially inspired by Canadian farmer Joe Dorgen, who noticed that when his cattle grazed on seaweed washed up on the shores of PEI, they became healthier and more productive. Later research conducted by Kiney and a colleague in Canada in 2014 confirmed these observations and also showed that dietary seaweed reduced methane emissions.
Doubts have been expressed, however, about the safety of using seaweed in farming practice, particularly when it comes to Bromoform, the chemical produced from Asparagopsis that inhibits methane production in the rumen. Some suggest large scale seaweed farming could generate concerning levels of bromoform, which has the potential to damage the ozone layer when leaked into the atmosphere. Kinley argues that this relationship is not well understood.
Concerns have also been raised regarding the possibility of bromoform turning up in the food supply as it is a known carcinogen. Again, Kinley argues bromoform has only been shown to be carcinogenic when fed to mice at levels 1500 times that which would be fed to cows.
Amid these questions, Kinley’s and De Nys’ research provides one example of multiple interventions currently being researched with the aim of reducing the impact of cattle farming – highly important given that this industry currently accounts for 26 percent of the United States’ total methane emissions.
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