Aussies cultivate ‘burpless’ grass

Researchers in Australia have received funding to develop more digestible feeds for cattle — “burpless” grass, in industry parlance — that result in less methane being produced as they are broken down in cows’ stomach(s).

As a recent returnee to the world of eating meat, I cringe when thinking about the impact raising that meat has on the environment. Here on the TerraPass carbon project team we spend quite a bit of time thinking about what we like to call the “business end” of a cow. TerraPass funds projects that clean up the methane from cow manure, but as it turns out, the natural digestive process in a cow’s many stomachs produces quite a bit more methane than the manure itself. This process, known in industry lingo as enteric fermentation, produces some very significant “methane burps.” Shy of putting some kind of gas mask on the cow, this source of emissions has been treated as largely unmanageable — until now.

This is one of several interesting initiatives originating down under that seek to curb methane emissions from raising animals. Another study is attempting to shed light on why kangaroos are naturally burpless.

Coupled with anaerobic digester projects this strikes us an exciting and potentially holistic approach to mitigating some of the environmental impacts of consuming animal products. It does make you wonder though, to what lengths are we willing to go to continue the consumption of animal products when the easiest solution is just to forego them all together?

(Via Earth2Tech)

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  1. Amelia - May 21, 2008

    Why instead of trying to improve a regressive and disgusting practice (raising other animals for the consumption of their flesh) dont they just go over to grains or put their money into test-tube meat? Whatever their methane production those unfortunate beasts will continue to be inefficient converters of vegetable fodder to meat: most costs to the environment will be unaffected, the bovine life expectancy or quality of life will not improve significantly, these unoffensive beasts will continue to die prematurely and miserably and some unfortunate human being who has never heard of terrapass or had any other more attractive options will have the dirty and disturbing work of killing and butchering them.
    What a sad commentary on the human animal that this scandal continues unabated and even represents a standard of well-being to which people too poor to afford it presently are striving!

  2. Drew - May 21, 2008

    The meat eater/vegetarian debate is not entirely relevant here. The number of dairy cattle, though smaller than the beef cattle populaiton, is substantial and would remain an issue even if we stopped eating beef. In fact, since a large number of vegetarians use milk products, the switch to an all-vegetarian world diet would mean dairy cattle numbers would rise as beef cattle numbers fell. (Though not by a one-to-one ratio.)I too would be happy to see vat grown meat use become the beef source of choice, but there are a lot of problems that must be solved before that is a reality.
    But that begs the question. As long as we use cattle for any purpose, we need ways to reduce their per-cow methane release.

  3. JL Johnson - May 21, 2008

    Interesting. I gave up beef over a year ago, and have substantially curbed meet consumption from other quadrupeds as well. Subsequently that somewhat small change coupled with a stringent exercise program I’ve dropped over 100lbs from a very bloated 378.
    Hey, what can I say? Its a small step towards better health, and a better planet, one that has served me quite well.
    I must admit that this burpless research is interesting to say the least, my only hope is that this feed is not genetically engineered, but thats another story all together.
    Of all the green blogs I’ve subscribed to the one here at terrapass is the one that I keep coming back to. Where do you guys come up with this stuff?

  4. Amelia - May 21, 2008

    Well I should have been clearer that I advocate a vegan diet to address the environmental (as well as the health and ethical) issues raised. Supplemented of course by ersatz meat as well as ersatz brie for those who find it hard to kick the habit.

  5. Katherine - May 21, 2008

    In the US, most cows are actually fed corn, rather than grass. Which probably jacks up the methane output, since cows can’t really digest corn all that well. Yet another reason why factory farming is environmentally disastrous.

  6. Anonymous - May 21, 2008

    Not everyone can eat a vegan or even vegetarian diet – I am allergic to all the grains, and don’t do well with dairy or beans either. Still, I don’t eat quadriped meat and do eat lots of fruit and veggies. Seems to me we can’t make laws for other people, even in the name of the environment.

  7. Mandi - May 25, 2008

    An option, since our bodies were designed for meat consumption, is naturally raised animals. Cows, chickens, duck, goat, lamb all the like can live a peaceful life with out hormones and antibiotics if raised in the right conditions: appropriate grazing land, ample fresh water and raised in its herd/brood/clutch etc. This style of repectful rearing can be found at your local farmers market. Plus, the carbon offsets from not having it trucked across America to get to you and the energy used at the store to keep it waiting for you is an added bonus.

  8. Michel - October 22, 2008

    I think that is cool. Combine those with the methane digesters for biogas like the author said and it will help curb global warming,… regardless of your position on eating meat.

  9. June - June 16, 2009

    If the current world population is 6,792,467,727 and the world population all changed to a vegan diet… What level of methane would the human population produce? Bearing in mind that the world population of domestic cattle is 1.3 billion?
    Could the world support that level of vegan demand? How would we fertilise this increase in crop yield, without creating deserts? Is there a formula for a balance between the the two? In practical terms what would we eat? Humans need a balanced diet and children need vitamens and essential proteins produced by a mixed diet. Can these be produced syntheticaly?