Seaweed add to cow’s diet could cut emission levels

Introducing dried seaweed into a cow’s diet could greatly reduce emission levels.

Research from Australia showed that adding less than 2% dried seaweed to a cow’s diet could help to reduce their methane emissions by as much as 99%.

The reason this is so significant is because our agriculture sector is responsible for almost a third of Ireland’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

Cows release methane through flatulence and burping as a result of the manner in which they digest their food, via fermentation.

The newly published research from James Cook University in Queensland developed on the findings of a Canadian farmer in 2012, who discovered that cows who ate wind-blown seaweed were far healthier than those that did not.

The Australian research found that adding freeze-dried seaweed to a test tube that replicated the fermentation that occurs in a cow’s gut “completely inhibited the production of CH4” (methane).

Irish researcher Tommy Boland from University College Dublin’s (UCD) School of Agriculture and Food Science said seaweed has long been investigated for its role in intestinal health.

He also said there are other ways that methane production can be mitigated in cows.

“There are a number of different ways you can mitigate it and dietary intervention is one,” said Dr Boland. “It can be done simply by improving the diet we feed our animals.

“There has been a lot of focus on dietary ingredients and changing recipes in the diet. There are also particular additives that can be added to the diet.”

Dr Boland is leading research into how to reduce methane emissions.

He said that while Ireland has a large animal population compared to its human population, environmental responsibility is shared across everyone in the agricultural sector.

“There has been significant progress in the last 15 years in Ireland and the agriculture sector has been extremely proactive,” said Dr Boland.

“Ireland is, has, and will be very active at a national and international level from farmers and researchers to advisors. We are all working towards a similar goal.”

Meanwhile, Independent TD for Roscommon-Galway Michael Fitzmaurice said the research should be looked at “seriously.”

Mr Fitzmaurice also said the findings could help to kick start a new industry.

“The news in recent days of research that an addition of just 2% of dried seaweed to a cow’s diet can make them healthier, more fertile and reduce methane emissions by as much as 99% deserves to be looked at seriously here in Ireland and it could kick start a new industry that would create jobs into the future,” he said.

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