Methane is 20 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, and cows are responsible for almost three-quarters of total methane emissions. So it makes sense that Stephen Moore, a professor of agricultural, food, and nutritional science at the University of Alberta, is trying to breed cows that burp less and hence produce 25% fewer methane emissions.
Moore is examining the genes responsible for methane production in cows’ four stomachs (rumen, reticulum, omasum, and abomasum) in an attempt to breed cows that deliver milk and meat sans excess greenhouse emissions. Primary tests have been successful, but the long-term impact of breeding methane-efficient cows is unknown. If successful, Moore’s cows could also become efficient at converting feed into muscle and producing less waste.
But tweaking cow genes isn’t the only way to minimize methane production. Cows at 15 farms in Vermont are participating in a Stonyfield Farm-sponsored program to go on a diet rich in plants like alfalfa and flax. So far, milk output of cows in the program has remained stable while methane production has decreased 12% on average. Genetically superior cows might be the wave of the future, but cows that eat grass-like foods can cut methane emissions now.