Seaweed diet could save planet from cows' flatulence

Greener grazing: The red seaweed grows wild in many parts of the world
Greener grazing: The red seaweed grows wild in many parts of the world

Patrick Whittle

A seaweed diet could mean cow flatulence stinks a little less for the future of the Earth, according to a US aquaculture company.

Australis Aquaculture, based in Massachusetts, is hoping to become a worldwide leader in an emerging effort to thwart climate change by feeding seaweed to cows.

The concept of reducing livestock emissions of greenhouse gas methane by using seaweed as feed is the subject of scientific research, and early results are promising.

But one of the big challenges is getting enough seaweed to farmers, and the kind of seaweed that has shown results is not commercially farmed.

Australis is doing research at facilities in Vietnam and Portugal as part of its "Greener Grazing" push to become the first to produce suitable seaweed on a commercial scale.

Chief executive Josh Goldman said feeding cows the seaweed would be equivalent to taking many cars off the road.

The algae is a red seaweed called asparagopsis, which grows wild in many parts of the world.

Researchers at the University of California found earlier this year that methane emissions were reduced by 24-58pc in cows that ate one variety of the seaweed, depending on dose.

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Methane produced by cows is 25pc of all of the gas emitted in the US.

The challenge of producing enough of the seaweed is staggering, leading Goldman to call it an "aquatic moon shot".

The effort has attracted the attention of the World Bank.

The bank's aquaculture specialist Randall Brummett said it could make cattle operations more climate-friendly and boost the economies of poorer nations.

However, there are still doubts, among them that the seaweed has yet to be proven palatable to cows.

It also needs more tests to determine if it would affect meat and milk quality.

University of California animal science professor Frank Mitloehner said: "Some serious concerns have to be addressed before it can be considered to be a serious mitigation tool."

Irish Independent

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