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Feeding Seaweed To Cows Eliminates Methane Emissions (www.cbc.ca) 283

Dave Knott writes: A Canadian farmer has "helped lead to a researcher's discovery of an unlikely weapon in the battle against global warming: a seaweed that nearly eliminates the destructive methane content of cow burps and farts," reports the CBC. "Joe Dorgan began feeding his cattle seaweed from nearby beaches more than a decade ago as a way to cut costs... Then researcher Rob Kinley of Dalhousie University caught wind of it." He tested Dorgan's seaweed mix, discovering that it reduced the methane in the cows' burps and farts by about 20 per cent. "Kinley knew he was on to something, so he did further testing with 30 to 40 other seaweeds. That led him to a red seaweed Asparagopsis taxiformis he says reduces methane in cows burps and farts to almost nothing."

"Ruminant animals are responsible for roughly 20% of greenhouse gas emissions globally, so it's not a small number," said Kinley, an agricultural research scientist now working at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation in Queensland, Australia. "We're talking numbers equivalent to hundreds of millions of cars."

The researcher predicts a seaweed-based cow feed could be on the market within three to five years, according to the article. "He says the biggest challenge will be growing enough seaweed."
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Feeding Seaweed To Cows Eliminates Methane Emissions

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  • by lucm ( 889690 ) on Saturday November 19, 2016 @10:38PM (#53324353)

    Seaweed tastes so bad that it makes them puke when the farmer is not looking. That's why they're no longer farting. The guy will come back in 6 months saying all his cows died of hunger and he doesn't understand why.

    • by jrumney ( 197329 )
      "Within hours of feeding the animals the red weed, the animals are seen to lie down and never emit another fart or burp again". I for one welcome our new Martian overlords.
    • Actually, that was the first thing I wondered - do the cows like it? Or are they SOL since they have no way of telling their owners that it sucks?
    • by hey! ( 33014 ) on Sunday November 20, 2016 @12:32PM (#53326859) Homepage Journal

      But it doesn't taste bad. "Umami", one of the five basic tastes, was discovered by studying seaweeds, and was named for the Japanese word for the flavor seaweeds lend to broth, literally "pleasant savory flavor."

      It's a fair bet that every pre-industrial community that lived by a productive ocean ate seaweed, although just like Brussels sprouts not being as popular as corn, not all varieties of seaweed are equally tasty. Nori and Kombu are very tasty. Dulse, fried and salted, is somewhat reminiscent of bacon (it's that umami flavor again). Carageenan is virtually tasteless, which is why it is used as a base for fancy puddings [wikipedia.org]. It is extensively used in prepared foods as a texture improver: half-and-half, ice cream, reduced fat dairy products, candy bars, toothpaste, even soda. Americans are food wimps, but they eat a lot of the stuff without realizing because it's hidden in many of the prepared foods we like to eat, like fast food "shakes".

  • Elon Musk (Score:2, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Someone please forward this article to Elon Musk.

    • I see a market for seaweed-based Mexican food.

      • I see a market for seaweed-based Mexican food.

        We eat seaweed and it's products already Carrageenan comes to mind, with ice cream, Beer!, Toothpaste and that's just Carrageenan. Sushi also uses it. In Wales they use some seaweed called Laver - sounds awful, but they like it, so it can't be too bad.

        Cows will probably love it. I see supply problems though. Right now a lot of them get chicken shit - I kid you not - and if you had the choice between poultry waste or seaweed, I think I know what most of us would pick. https://www.organicconsumers.o... [organicconsumers.org]

        • I probably eat 1000X as much seaweed as the average American. It's tasty, cheap, a great source of anti-oxidants, requires no farming... It's a win-win.
          • I probably eat 1000X as much seaweed as the average American. It's tasty, cheap, a great source of anti-oxidants, requires no farming... It's a win-win.

            The crispy thin green sheets of it are pretty darn good as well. Sometimes I eat those like potato chips, and very low calorie and way tasty.

        • If they're eating chicken muck I don't know how you can make seaweed the more attractive option for the farmer. Where will he put the mountains of chicken waste now? I have 5 chickens, they make a lot more waste than I can deal with.

          • If they're eating chicken muck I don't know how you can make seaweed the more attractive option for the farmer. Where will he put the mountains of chicken waste now? I have 5 chickens, they make a lot more waste than I can deal with.

            It is a good question - if a gross one. But we gotta remember the chicken shit goes in and we get cow shit back.

            There's also the humane issue, and the what we're willing to eat issue. I know people who refuse to eat catfish because they grub in the mud, but will happily gobble down a burger from a cow that ate chicken shit it's whole life. I'm a dedicated carnivore, but until they are harvested, we should treat them right.

            The big issue with chicken manure is it's so darn powerful. You've probably seen

  • by flatulus ( 260854 ) on Saturday November 19, 2016 @11:02PM (#53324433)
    "Then researcher Rob Kinley of Dalhousie University caught wind of it."

    Shouldn't that be "noticed the absence of wind?"

    I couldn't resist. I've been waiting years for this opportunity (note my account name)...
  • Price? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday November 19, 2016 @11:03PM (#53324435)

    The real question is if this new feed costs the same or less than the current feed given to cows.

    • by Nutria ( 679911 )

      Because... "the biggest challenge will be growing enough seaweed."

  • by nowsharing ( 2732637 ) on Saturday November 19, 2016 @11:12PM (#53324467)
    What incentive does big ag have to do anything to reduce their environmental footprint? They have a get-out-of-jail-free card for emissions, fresh water usage and water system pollution, food poisoning, antibiotics abuse, employee and animal abuse, and land degradation. They're richly subsidized to be the world's greatest pollution offenders.
    • What incentive does big ag have to do anything to reduce their environmental footprint?

      It may not, but it would be additional business for artificial fisheries (ie, fish farmers).

  • Finally! (Score:5, Funny)

    by dohzer ( 867770 ) on Saturday November 19, 2016 @11:17PM (#53324483) Homepage

    I can finally eat surf-and-turf while only harming one animal. Take that, vegetarians!

  • Curtain (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ThatsNotPudding ( 1045640 ) on Saturday November 19, 2016 @11:24PM (#53324501)
    "Please pay no attention to all the extra emissions from growing, harvesting, processing, and transporting!"
    • "Please pay no attention to all the extra emissions from growing, harvesting, processing, and transporting!"

      You have to think outside the box!
      Fantastic growth industry teaching cows to swim and chew food with a snorkel in their mouth...

  • by newsdee ( 629448 ) on Saturday November 19, 2016 @11:25PM (#53324511) Homepage Journal

    ...weed cures farts?

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Am I going to pay a bunch of money for fancy seaweed and force my cows to eat it, or will I continue to let them graze my land that costs me nothing?

    Decisions, decisions...

    • by jonwil ( 467024 )

      This isn't about the cows that chew on grass all day, this is about the cows in big industrial feedlots that are fed things cows were never meant to eat. (I have seen stories of cows being fed chocolate bars and candy, foods that even humans shouldn't be eating let alone animals that need a lot more fibre in their diet than humans do...)

      If you can replace that feed with something that doesn't cost the farmer any extra money and is better for the cows and the planet, I think the farmers will be interested.

      Wh

  • Not feeding the cows also does that, because they die. Can I have a research grant?

  • by Vegan Cyclist ( 1650427 ) on Saturday November 19, 2016 @11:49PM (#53324603) Homepage

    There are ~100 million cows in the US.

    They each eat about 24lbs of food a day.

    Doesn't say what proportion of that has to be seaweed, but even if it's just a pound a day, that's 100 million pounds of seaweed every day. 36.5 billion pounds a year.

    Annual global seaweed harvest was 28,000 metric tons (61,729,433lbs) in '88 according to Wikipedia.

    And there are lots more cows around the rest of the world (upwards of 1.5 billion).

    People think *I'm* crazy as a vegan. But take note, according to this pro-meat article, livestock accounts for 20% of greenhouse emissions. Should be worrisome to anyone consuming cows or dairy...that's a lot we could cut out very quickly if the will existed.

    • Vegans produce more methane than omnivores do...

      Vegans CAUSE GLOBAL WARMING!

      • I know you're probably joking, but bear in mind that with vegans, we fart ourselves. Everyone else has cows, pigs, chickens and other livestock farting on their behalf....so not really. ;)

    • Agreed. And if the industry themselves give 20% as their number for greenhouse emissions, you know it's a hell of a lot worse than that. I'm a vegan for health and environmental concerns as well.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      This article is a little late, most places reported this back in October. It was 3-5% of the diet for the reduction. Now it is also only one type of seaweed that produces the dramatic reduction.

      Now it does bring in a possible business venture of seaweed farming, one of the other articles from when this was first reported estimated roughly 700 square miles of seaweed farms would be needed for the US, and about 250 for Australia. With current seaweed farming basically being null there is plenty of room for

    • Fisheries can probably be adopted to grow seaweed instead of fish. It would be a huge additional business for them. It may also be cheaper to grow feed that way (the harvesting cost would probably be smaller).
    • People think *I'm* crazy as a vegan. But take note, according to this pro-meat article, livestock accounts for 20% of greenhouse emissions.

      That depends, did you or are you intending to reproduce? If so your actions there are many orders of magnitude worse for the environment and global green house gas emissions than your diet will ever be.

  • Fat (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Orgasmatron ( 8103 ) on Sunday November 20, 2016 @12:06AM (#53324643)

    What does it do to the fatty acids in the beef?

    Mammals are unable to relocate the double bond in fatty acids that we eat. (If you aren't up on this stuff, that is the omega number.) To make a long story short, the essential fatty acids in our bodies are the essential fatty acids in the feed that we raise our food with. Switching most of our beef and milk from grass to corn changed the balance that they eat and thus the balance that we eat. And it was probably unwise to do that without any understanding of what that would do (is doing) to us.

    I don't care about methane one way or the other, but the long running chemistry experiment that is our food supply bothers me a little bit.

  • A quick search nets me http://journals.plos.org/ploso... [plos.org] a 2013 submission. Quote: "The most effective species, Asparagopsis, offers the most promising alternative for mitigation of enteric CH4 emissions."

  • Seaweed is also being studied as a means of carbon sequestration [sciencealert.com].
    So grow vast amounts of seaweed, feed some of it to cows, and you've got a "two for the price of one" effect on global warming.

  • be allowed to talk about this in the Canadian parliament, given the fuss the last time fart was said in parliament [bbc.co.uk]?

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