Feeding Cows Seaweed to Reduce Burping Is the New Weapon Against Global Warming

Now, the only thing scientists need to do is to find a way to make them fart less.
Derya Ozdemir

Here is some food for thought: Did you know that cow burps release so much methane that they're responsible for roughly 5% of global carbon emissions? Also, a certain percentage of methane is produced in the cow’s large intestine and then expelled via, well, farts. Hence was the reason why Bill Gates uttered the much-debated "Stop cow farts to help slow climate change," statement some years ago. That has stayed relevant since then.  

Throughout the years, some solutions have been proposed to solve this problem, from scientists doing studies to Redditors idly commenting "Stop breathing to stop climate change." However, arguably, none has stuck as much as a type of red seaweed that has the unique ability that is needed to slow down climate change.

Feeding Cows Seaweed to Reduce Burping Is the New Weapon Against Global Warming
Source: Volta Greentech

This seaweed has never been grown on land before, and now, a startup called Volta Greentech will begin the commercial production of Asparagopsis taxiformis, the magical weed that, when added to cattle feed, makes the cows that eat it burp less methane. 


As many stories do, it started on Reddit

The founder of the startup, Fredrik Åkerman, apparently stumbled upon a research posted on Reddit about the methane-cutting potential of the seaweed, which prompted him to start looking into how could this fact be marketed, Fast Company reports.

2% of seaweed in cattle feed reduced emission 99%

When we say potential, we are talking about a great deal of change there. Reportedly, UC Davis researchers tried adding 1% of the seaweed to the cattle feed and saw an almost 60% reduction in methane emissions. When that number was taken up a notch during lab tests in Australia, 2% of seaweed in cattle feed reduced emission by 99%.

Feeding Cows Seaweed to Reduce Burping Is the New Weapon Against Global Warming
Source: Volta Greentech

And the best part is that the cows were happy to munch on their feed and were indifferent towards the addition of seaweed. Moreover, humans who were munching on the cows that had the seaweed in their diet reported that there wasn't a taste difference. 

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Industrializing takes time

However, feeding 1.5 billion cattle is not an easy feat and wild red seaweed isn't quite there yet. Volta Greentech is trying to make this happen by industrializing the process and has found the most efficient way to growing it, which is to grow it under artificial lights, in tanks that draw seawater from the ocean.

Feeding Cows Seaweed to Reduce Burping Is the New Weapon Against Global Warming
Source: Volta Greentech

Their new factory will grow the seaweed under these conditions and its basic elements are ready as of this writing. The company's aim is to finish building the factory and begin the seaweed production later in 2020.

'Consumer behavior needs to change'

However, if you have doubts about your consumer habits and thinking those are cleared thanks to this article, hold onto your steak before you bite on it.

Cutting methane is only one aspect of the meat and milk industry and the other problems such as cutting of trees to grow soy for cattle feed and usage of enormous water to grow crops for animals, clean factory farms, and give animals to drink — which is a lot when you think about the fact that a single cow used for milk can drink up to 50 gallons of water per day and that number doubles when the weather is hot — still remain. 

A step in the right direction

Åkerman puts it in the best way possible, "Consumer behavior needs to change. We can’t eat meat and drink milk in the way we’re doing it now. But this is part of the solution. If we could reduce methane, that would be good for the people that are not transitioning over to a plant-based diet. If consumers buy meat and milk that is methane-reduced, they’re still doing something that is better for the climate than if they eat conventional meat or milk."

So in the end, avoiding meat and dairy products is still the single biggest way to reduce your environmental impact on our little pale blue dot. Eating meat, sadly, still can be associated with the looming dread of cows suffering in farms and what the act means as a tool of patriarchy, but this startup is a step in the right direction.