First ever bull semen modified to produce cows that burp less methane

Cattle are responsible for 14.5 percent of the world's greenhouse gas emissions. 
Loukia Papadopoulos
Representational image of cows in a farm.jpg
Representational image of cows in a farm.


For the first time in history, farmers are breeding cows that burp less methane, in an attempt to be more environmentally friendly.

This is according to a report by Reuters published on Tuesday.

The article quoted Canadian dairy farmer Ben Loewith who artificially inseminated his cows with the first-to-market bull semen that produced offspring that burp less methane.

Lower emissions

"Selectively breeding for lower emissions, as long as we're not sacrificing other traits, seems like an easy win," Loewith told the news outlet.

"If it's something that you've doubled down on generation after generation, then the impact becomes more significant."

The semen comes from genetics company Semex which claims that their development could result in the reduction of methane emissions from Canada's dairy production by 1.5 percent annually, and up to 20-30 percent by 2050.

Canada's agriculture department told Reuters in an email that although it had not been able to evaluate the new semen, reducing emissions from livestock was "extremely important” as the cattle are responsible for 14.5 percent of the world's greenhouse gas emissions. 

Currently one option for reducing methane emission is feeding additives to cattle but this option is not very efficient as its effects are reduced once the cattle stop eating them. It’s also not currently approved in the US.

Semex collaborated with Canada's milk-recording agency Lactanet to produce the new semen. Lactanet collected seven years of research by University of Guelph and University of Alberta scientists to produce the world's first national genomic methane evaluation.

Christine Baes, professor of animal biosciences at University of Guelph, was part of Lactanet’s work, told Reuters that methane emissions from Canadian dairy cows can range from 250 to 750 grams per day.

"The breakthrough here is linking these different components to have a national breeding value estimation for methane emissions based on real breath of animals," Baes said.

"We also have genomic information and we match those up and create almost a telephone book to say, 'this animal has these genes and produces this much methane.'"

Offset credits

And Canadian farmers could soon have many more reasons to use Semex’s sperm as Reuters reported that the Canadian government is planning on introducing offset credits for reducing methane through better manure management.

In light of this, low-methane breeding may soon be high on the priority list of cattle farmers everywhere.

"Genetic change is permanent and cumulative across future generations so it can add up to substantive reductions," Michael Lohuis, Semex's vice-president of research and innovation told Reuters. "This is certainly not the only tool dairy producers can use to reduce methane on-farm, but it may be the simplest and lowest-cost approach."