The continued growth of the animal agriculture industry over the twentieth and twenty-first centuries has not only changed the landscape of the earth through deforestation and desertification, it has also drastically increased the amount of greenhouse gas emissions released into the atmosphere each year.
Agricultural emissions – carbon dioxide (CO2), methane gas (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O) are all by-products of an industry comprised of billions of land animals often raised in factory farms for their meat, eggs and milk. While everything from the production of feed crops to the packaging and transportation of the products has a negative impact on the planet, researchers at Aarhus University in Denmark have focused their studies on one primary producer of methane emissions – cow burps.
Recognized by some researchers as being responsible for over one third of the greenhouse gas emissions produced by the animal agricultural industry, methane emissions are released during the digestion process of predominately ruminant animals (those with four compartments in the stomach) who are fed a diet of grasses and feed. Livestock once fed native grass and flower species, now live on a diet comprised mostly of ryegrass, which grows quickly and is harder on an animal’s digestive system.
With their sights set on decreasing the volume of methane emissions produced by cows, Aarhus University researchers developed a new species of grass. “Super Grass” as it is known, is easier on the cow’s digestive system thereby reducing the amount of cow burps produced by each animal. “We know that cattle are one of agriculture’s culprits when it comes to releasing greenhouse gases, so it’s important that we explore how we can reduce cows’ emissions” stated Minister Esben Lunde Larsen in a recent BBC News article.
It is believed that “super grass” will not only help to reduce the methane produced by cows, but that the increased ease of digestion will enable the cows to produce more milk.
The inarguable connection between cows and methane makes the introduction of “super grass” an important development in the quest to decrease cow burps, and shows that progress is being made in the quest to lessen agricultural emissions overall.