Cow burps are a climate problem. Can seaweed help?
There are around 1.5 billion cows on the planet being raised as livestock for things like meat and dairy — and they’re a climate problem we’ve struggled to solve. Cows have a specialized digestive tract that allows them to digest tough plant material like grass or hay, but in that process, methane is produced as waste, and the cows … burp it out. Methane is a greenhouse gas that’s nearly 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, these burping animals are considered one of the largest sources of methane production in the United States, making up nearly 25 percent of all methane emissions.
You’ve likely heard of a few solutions to this. The loudest one is probably the campaign to get people to cut their beef intake or switch to meat alternatives. It’s an important solution, but people are often reluctant to do it. So instead, some scientists are taking the attention off humans and focusing on the diet of the cows. What they’ve found is that certain additives in cow feed can help reduce methane emissions, and recent work has drawn a lot of attention to one unexpected hero: seaweed.