Better Cow Burps

Cattle belches contain methane—a potent global warming gas.

Sometimes the answer really is simple. Such as giving cows oregano to prevent their belches from being so packed with global warming-causing methane. When Penn State dairy scientist Alexander Hristov gave dairy cows an oregano-based supplement, it not only reduced their methane emissions by 40%, but it also boosted milk production. And that could make a big difference down the road in terms of global warming emissions.

"Cattle are actually a major producer of methane gas and methane is a significant greenhouse gas," Hristov said. "In fact, worldwide, livestock emits 37% of anthropogenic methane."

Although carbon dioxide gets all the recognition, methane is actually a much more potent global warming gas—with 21 times more heat-trapping, global warming potential. As the 2006 United Nation's report "Livestock's Long Shadow" showed, methane is the second-most important greenhouse gas, and livestock, worldwide, are major contributors to global warming, not only through methane, but also through the nitrous oxide (296 times the global warming potential of CO2) in manure and the deforestation that provides grazing for livestock (livestock accounts for the largest human use of land worldwide). When all of livestock's impacts are taken into account, the sector represents 18% of worldwide greenhouse gas emissions—more than the transportation sector. E covered the meat industry's destructive environmental legacy in its 2008 feature "The Meat of the Matter”.

In his quest to find a way to cut down on cow methane, Hristov tried a variety of essential oils, compounds and plants before hitting upon oregano. It was particular compounds in oregano—caracrol, geraniol and thymol—that worked to suppress methane. "If the follow-up trials are successful, we will keep trying to identify the active compounds in oregano to produce purer products," Hristov said.

SOURCES: Livestock's Long Shadow; ScienceDaily.