Scientists Target Cow Burps in Effort to Curb Climate Change

Aug 10, 2023

Cows fart. Cows burp. When they do, it releases a gas called methane. It accounts for 14.5% of all greenhouse gasses in Earth’s atmosphere. It contributes to climate change. That's why experts are hard at work trying to figure out how to reduce those methane emissions.

That’s right — scientists are trying to make cow burps more environmentally friendly. And it appears they may have found a way to do just that.

A handful of companies have bred bulls that burp less methane. “Breeding for lower emissions ... seems like an easy win,” said Ben Loewith. He is a Canadian dairy farmer. He has purchased materials to breed cows from a genetics company called Semex. Loewith told Reuters that he recently began trying it with his 107 cows and heifers on his farm in Lynden, Ontario.

A Semex executive estimated that if enough farmers breed cows with the low-methane trait, it could reduce methane emissions from Canada's dairy herd by 1.5% annually. That number could go as high as 20%-30% by 2050. Environmental scientists not connected to the company agreed that the estimate might not be far off.

If widely adopted, low-methane breeding could have a “profound impact” on cattle emissions worldwide. That's according to Frank Mitloehner. He's a professor of animal science at University of California Davis.

Still, some dairy industry officials are concerned. They worry that introducing the genetic materials into cows could lead to digestive problems.

Photo from Unsplash courtesy of Lomig.

Reflect: What are some ways we can make our actions more environmentally friendly? Can you think of a situation where we could change what we do to help take care of the Earth?

What is the primary problem that scientists are addressing in the story? (Common Core RI.5.5; RI.6.5)
a. The need to increase the milk production of cows.
b. The challenge of reducing methane emissions from cows.
c. The issue of cows being prone to certain diseases.
d. The necessity of improving the taste of beef produced by cows.
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