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Biotech Earth

Want To Fight Climate Change? Stop Cows From Burping 299

sciencehabit writes: A simple supplement to a cow's feed could substantially decrease a major source of methane, a planet-warming greenhouse gas, a new study suggests. Each year worldwide, the methane produced by cud-chewing livestock warms Earth's climate by the same amount as 2.1 billion tons of carbon dioxide, a little more than 4% of the greenhouse gas emissions related to human activity. That makes cows tempting targets for methane reduction efforts. In a new study, researchers added the chemical 3-nitrooxypropanol, also known as 3NOP, to the corn-and-alfalfa-based feed of 84 milk-producing Holsteins and monitored their methane production for 12 weeks—the largest and longest such trial of its type in lactating cows, the scientists say. For cows whose feed included 3NOP, methane emissions dropped, on average, by 30%.
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Want To Fight Climate Change? Stop Cows From Burping

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday August 02, 2015 @04:40AM (#50232927)

    You are all cows! Cows burp. BUUUUUUUURP! BUUUUUUURP! Buurp cows BUUUUURP! Burp say the cows. YOU BURPING COWS!!

  • I'll go for late seeing as this information is at least 30 years old if not older.

  • by gweihir ( 88907 ) on Sunday August 02, 2015 @04:45AM (#50232953)

    And if you take into account the problems of implementing this, then this becomes one of the most stupid ideas to reduce greenhouse emissions...

    • by Gadget_Guy ( 627405 ) on Sunday August 02, 2015 @05:32AM (#50233081)

      Because all the 1.2% savings that can be made add up to make a large difference. If we find eight ways to make 1.2% savings across different areas then that is nearly a 10% reduction in the human generation of greenhouse gases. The human race isn't limited to finding just one method to solve the climate change problem. If we make small savings across the board with cost-effective, manageable solutions then we don't have to solve the problem with a single grand gesture that ends up costing a lot of money.

      And what are the problems that you envisage implementing this? The article says:

      Larger tests will be needed to see if detrimental effects crop up over the long term

      I find it interesting that you have already found out what the problems are before scientists have managed to do any studies.

      • Because all the 1.2% savings that can be made add up to make a large difference. If we find eight ways to make 1.2% savings across different areas then that is nearly a 10% reduction in the human generation of greenhouse gases. The human race isn't limited to finding just one method to solve the climate change problem. If we make small savings across the board with cost-effective, manageable solutions then we don't have to solve the problem with a single grand gesture that ends up costing a lot of money.

        What, you mean behaving reasonably might work better than just demonizing political opponents? You may be on to something there.

        • What, you mean behaving reasonably might work better than just demonizing political opponents? You may be on to something there.

          Judging by the way that the OP responded to my post [slashdot.org], I think that we still have a long way to go before the demonising is done. Not only did he or she demonise the farmers by saying that they wouldn't voluntarily do anything to help in reducing greenhouse gases, but also I managed to get a serve because I didn't magically know that this was the vague "problems of implementing" the addition of a chemical into the cows' feed.

          But seriously, I think that there is plenty of work going on behind the scenes to fin

          • by gweihir ( 88907 )

            The demonising is all yours. I did not say anything about the will of the farmers to help at all.

            • Then what is this about:

              I am saying getting farmers to implement this will be problematic.

              • Lets say, just hypothetically, that this is implemented at a federal government level. Further, lets take as a given that this supplement makes cows healthier, happier and cheaper to feed. Additionally, lets assume that we want this enough to subsidize this for farmers to the point that they're actually paid slightly to implement it. I'd call this set of givens the ideal situation.

                Even if we had such an ideal situation, there will be a lot of ranchers and farmers who don't trust the government's plan (my f

      • by gweihir ( 88907 )

        The scientists are looking for potential negative effects. I am saying getting farmers to implement this will be problematic. If you cannot distinguish the two, then you have no business commenting.

        • And yet making unsubstantial allegations and spreading FUD is exactly what we need around here. If you can't make a statement without explaining yourself then you have even less business commenting here than I have.

          Believe it or not, farmers are concerned with climate change because it directly affects them. Here in Australia, our farmers often cooperate with the CSIRO (and other institutions) to study various aspects of climate change and methods to combat it. Also, any government that wants to make a chea

          • by gweihir ( 88907 )

            Getting a change of this nature implemented globally is exceptionally difficult and may well be impossible. If you believe anything else, then you are boundless naive.

            • by Gadget_Guy ( 627405 ) on Sunday August 02, 2015 @07:03AM (#50233315)

              This chemical makes the feed more effective, and more of the nutrients gets digested by the cows. Why would farmers not want a more effective feed? How is that naive?

              All the complaints here are predicated on the idea that this will cost a lot of money and that farmers will not be willing to pay for it so the it will have to be mandated by a government decree. Nobody has provided any evidence of these claims.

              The scientists say that more studies need to be done on this subject, and that they still don't have all the answers. I don't claim to have all the answers. But the people who are against the idea seem to have all the answers; enough to judge this idea as unworkable and call anyone who wants them to justify their claims as naive, irrational, thoughtless and have no business commenting.

              • The scientists say that more studies need to be done on this subject,

                I wish they would study a way to convert the damn gas into something that is not debatable instead of running around getting everyone worked up so they can do more studies.

                • That's a very cynical attitude. There are programs that extract the methane from the waste products of farm animals, but there isn't an easy way to capture a burp. Therefore the focus is on reducing the output rather than harvesting tiny gas emissions.

              • This chemical makes the feed more effective, and more of the nutrients gets digested by the cows.

                If that's true, then the bovine nutritionists at the dairies will already be considering it. They take efficient feeding very seriously.

          • by HiThere ( 15173 )

            Farmers also operate on a thin budget, so if it increases their expenses they're likely to give it a pass, even if they approve of the idea.

            OTOH, if this is cheap and easy to add, then it may be successful. Depending. How many farmers still grow their own feed? How many buy commercial feed? (OTOH, why are dairy cattle being fed corn? That's generally a bad idea. It's usually reserved for beef cattle being held in feed lots to put on fat.)

            That said, my grandfather often added molasses to the alfalfa he

        • Farmers are easily convinced to do anything with tax incentives. They already get paid to take their land out of production when necessary.

      • Because all the 1.2% savings that can be made add up to make a large difference.

        That appears to be the theoretical maximum. But like the OP says, if you think about what it would take to implement this, which you clearly didn't, you would have realized that likely a much lower outcome even with great expense. The answer to reducing global warming gasses is not 'do everything', particularly in the near term, because we can't afford to 'do everything'. The smart approach is do what makes sense

        • But like the OP says, if you think about what it would take to implement this, which you clearly didn't, you would have realized that likely a much lower outcome even with great expense.

          Since you have obviously put the thought into this topic, exactly how much is it going to cost to implement this? How does it compare to the costs to get the same savings from other sources? You say that the smart approach is what makes sense, but why is this not the smart approach?

          If the conclusion of this study was that some feed energy not lost as methane was used by the cows to retain body weight that would have otherwise been lost in early lactation, isn't this a win/win solution for the farmers? They

          • I don't know the cost, but I, unlike you, can see the challenges in getting 100% of the cows in the world eating diets that 100% have 3NOP. You need to manufacture enough for starters, then distribute to every farm on the planet. And you need cooperation from all parties involved, including government, farmers, etc.

            You'll have to fend off legal action from those that oppose it, including the 'organic' food crowd.

            Then you have to deal with the little problem that a huge number of cows are range fed, no
            • I think that you are getting fixated on the exact numbers here. Yes, it might not add up to 1.2%, it might be less. If the calculated figure had been 0.7% I would have simply said that it would take 14 projects of a similar savings to make an overall 10% reduction. Any savings that it produces will still contribute to the overall reduction in greenhouse gas emission.

              But does that make it cost effective? Since nobody knows what this will cost (or indeed if it will actually save money), then it is far too ear

              • It is too early to make the call, but it is not too early to talk about the potential challenges of rolling out such a solution. Those must be kept in mind as we move forward, ignoring them could lead to waste.
      • Well said. Posting to undo wrong moderation.

    • by no-body ( 127863 )

      And if you take into account the problems of implementing this, then this becomes one of the most stupid ideas to reduce greenhouse emissions...

      Actually, on stupidity, I like the theory - or ”research“ result that a mini- or little ice age is around the corner, so actually nothing to worry about, all is fine, much better.
      One wonders how much money changed hands on that one.

      • One wonders how much money changed hands on that one.

        I would say none. The actual study said that the we were coming in a period of exceptionally low sunspot activity (a Maunder Minimum), as was last seen during the mini ice age. It did not claim that this would cause the mini ice age (in fact it happened long after the period started), nor did it say that it would cause one now.

        But all they needed to do was mention the two events in the one document and it was enough for the media to go into overdrive reporting that another ice age was coming. I'm sure that

    • by Imrik ( 148191 )

      1.2% is far greater than the total emissions of my state but that doesn't stop politicians from trying to tax carbon emissions.

  • by TheRaven64 ( 641858 ) on Sunday August 02, 2015 @04:55AM (#50232979) Journal
    If we all went vegetarian and killed off the domesticated cattle, then we'd make a huge difference! Kill a cow today!
    • If we all went vegetarian and killed off the domesticated cattle, then we'd make a huge difference! Kill a cow today!

      I will do my pat by eating a large steak tonight.

    • If we all went vegetarian and killed off the domesticated cattle, then we'd make a huge difference! Kill a cow today!

      Well, to look at it from a different perspective, it's the vegetarians who are the problem. The vegans don't consume animal products, but most vegetarians consume large amounts of dairy -- milk, cheese, etc. -- as sources for protein and various nutrients.

      So, the vegetarians of the world are forcing us to keep a bunch of cows alive to support them, cows that are belching out their greenhouse gases daily. Meanwhile, the meat-eaters are doing their part against global warming by killing cows every day for

  • I for one am eating them as fast as I can, but think going after power stations, industry and transportation fuels is gonna be more effective.

    As far as mitigation goes, increasing forest biomass is good. As far as managing what we've already got, the key factor is chaos theory, which I strongly recommend reading up on: it's fascinating.

    Basically we're gonna get progressively more insane weather events because climate's a chaotic system. It's never just 'everything smoothly gets five degrees hotter', instead

  • ... this measure doesn't involve:

    • -hating Republicans, or
    • -making people who aren't me give up stuff

    So how is that any fun, I ask you?!?

  • For cows whose feed included 3NOP, methane emissions dropped, on average, by 30%.

    And what will that reduction mean in terms of temperature reduction? Is the answer zero?

  • by jellomizer ( 103300 ) on Sunday August 02, 2015 @06:39AM (#50233241)

    Global warming is a complex issue, with many factors and no easy answer. Because of this complexity it makes it easy for someone to just not believe it is true, because the complexity it too much for any one person to handle. It is more complex than switching to solar panels, and electric cars, and stopping cows from having gas.
    Fixing these issues requires changing culture, which is hard, and will create a lot of people resistant to changes, they will hire a lot of people to make their point across, to convince others.

    We have a lot of science, and we need more... However I think one thing is needed isn't finding a silver bullet, is to counter the destructive marketing with more counter marketing. Many of the colleges and universities who are doing a lot of science on the topic, also have business schools and programs. Get a handful of those MBA and Public relation majors onto your grant, to help spread the information to help change the culture.

    I have seen major cultural changes happen due to effective marketing. From 2004 - 2015 where there was talk to make a constitutional amendment to ban Gay marriages, to it being legal in all states. The rise of smart phones and mobile connectivity...

    Marking isn't always bad and trying to sell you products, it is also used to explain ideas. They are actually a lot of MBA students who are not about being money grubbing capitalists, but are about trying to make the world better. (MBA with considerations in not-for-profit is a popular track). These grant for science, should also be allocated to students who are trained to sell the ideas to the general population.

    Showing a graph doesn't have impact on those who don't know how to read graphs.

  • When you try to cut into a steak from these new cows, it explodes and the entire restaurant then smells of methane.
  • But aren't the cows just returning carbon that the plants had recently sequestered back into the atmosphere? It's not as though the cows are digging up coal and eating it.

  • Stop eating cows and bovine dairy. Down side of that, no more steaks. Everyone gets pissed off until you bring up the possibility of Coldstone Creamery Human Breast Milk Shakes!
  • 30% of 4% is 1.2% (Score:2, Insightful)

    by vortex2.71 ( 802986 )

    30% of 4% is 1.2%. 1.2% is not worth writing a story about.

  • Bullshit (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Karmashock ( 2415832 )

    1st. Cow burps are only relevant to the extent that cow burps are fueled by sequestered carbon... if you're feeding them with grain that is produced with petro chemical fertilizers then an argument can be made there. However, if the cattle are not getting their food from those sources then whatever the cattle are doing is not relevant.

    2nd. Methane has a short life in the atmosphere... really CO2's life is over estimated but methane's is quite a bit shorter.

    3rd. Which meat are we going to shift to instead? A

    • You are quite right. That was a lot of bullshit!

      It does indeed matter what cows are doing. While methane is short lived in the atmosphere, it has 34 times more effect on the temperature than CO2. Fortunately the entire point of this study is to reduce the methane produced by cows so that we can still eat our lovely meat. They are not trying to turn you into a vegetarian. If you can smell an anti meat progressive lobby then you must have trod in it before you came in.

      Keep moving on.

      • 34?... I saw the other guy citing 20... which of you is wrong?

        As to methane being 34 times more effective... that is by mole.

        given that methane is an absurdly tiny trace gas what you're saying is 34 times 0 is important... I disagree.

        34 times 0 is 0. There's so little in the atmosphere that 34 times potency is meaningless.

        The entire issue is stupid. At best this is a whine for government funding for some make work project... possibly the politicians will look at this and think they can get some cheap green

        • 34?... I saw the other guy citing 20... which of you is wrong?

          Who cares? You are more wrong than either of us. At first I thought that you might have been trying to be funny with your original post. It turns out I was being optimistic. If the messages that you managed to read from the article was that they were trying to convert you to vegetarianism AND whine to the government for funds, then I think that it is probably good that you are moving on.

          • So you don't care if you're off by a 1/3rd?

            Okay... we'll just continue from there.

            wikipedia says: 1800 parts per billion is the atmospheric concentration.

            So that is 0.00018% of the atmosphere.

            Can you please give me a fucking break with this bullshit.

            • The problem is that it isn't evenly spread throughout the entire atmosphere as it rises to the top layer, so your figure is misleading. And for someone who values accuracy and correctness, doesn't it seem strange that the people who study this all their lives are worried about methane while you with your reading of the Wikipedia page know enough to say that they are all wrong? With your history of getting the wrong message from reading articles, you should be concerned.

              • ... okay... more of this apparently...
                http://www.democraticundergrou... [democratic...ground.com]

                As you can see from the second graph mean concentrations by altitude... its actually not that different. It is more concentrated in the northern hemisphere than the southern... but so what...

                As to the political argument you're now making of "shouldn't you be concerned if X is concerned?"...

                Lets extend that question to other things. Lets say a military figure says "I'm worried about the Iranian nuclear weapons program"... does that mean y

  • Do cows fed on the diet they evolved over 1000s of years to eat, namely grasses and similar plant species, produce as much methane as cows fed on GMO cereal grains and such do?

    Oh wait, if you fed cows what evolution designed them to eat, you couldn't sell $1 hamburgers at the golden arches...

    • 30.6 gigatons: 2010, estimated CO2 output for global electric power generation.
    • 2.2 gigatons: cattle.

    Based on a range from 1.6 to 3.5 gigatons: 1.3b cows * [50|110kgCH4] * 25kg CO2 GHG effect (beef = 50kg, dairy = 110kg)

  • and all those cargo ships china sends all over the world are so clean, i am not even going to read the article because just by the title i can tell it is a pile of shit, the bankers and industrialists that that run wallstreet and other financial centers around the world have conveniently hidden all their dirty factories in china and other third world nations where the citizens they hire have no human rights so they are basically slaves that work for just enough money to feed themselves

    the global economy
  • Grass fed, gluten and cage free, non-GMO, etc, etc, etc.
  • ... the population of spherical cows postulated by some physicists is increasing.

  • by Gavagai80 ( 1275204 ) on Sunday August 02, 2015 @09:57AM (#50233949) Homepage

    Why cows matter: https://xkcd.com/1338/ [xkcd.com]

  • I have been lately very concerned that, even between all the pesticides, hormones and antibiotics, I am not getting enough foreign chemicals in my burgers. Maybe this one will finally do the trick and help me mutate into green and 2-headed superior species!

  • Methane may be a powerful greenhouse gas, but it doesn't last very long in the atmosphere. Within 10 years most of the methane emitted is gone (typically due to chemical reactions in the upper atmosphere). Carbon dioxide emissions, on the other hand, elevate atmospheric CO2 concentrations for hundreds of years.

    So reduce the methane emissions permanently and you reduce the total greenhouse gas levels by a tiny amount: in 30 years, the effect will be the same as it will be in 5-10 years. Reduce CO2 emissio

    • To add: there is a large CO2 impact for all animal production, and cattle is worse than poultry. So there is a significant GHG impact, but it's not from burps (or farts).

Physician: One upon whom we set our hopes when ill and our dogs when well. -- Ambrose Bierce

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