Scientists get wind of 'green cow' methane research

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THE wind of change may soon be blowing through dairy farms all over the world.

Scientists in New Zealand are trying to develop "green cows" which produce less methane gas and help reduce their contribution to global warming. Ruminants, or animals that chew the cud, produce the gas at intervals from the stomach or intestines as part of the digestive process used to break down the fibrous material in their food and expel it by either burping or flatulence.

A cow cropping grass can produce 120kg of methane in a year, and, as a greenhouse gas, methane is at least 20 times more harmful to the environment than carbon dioxide. Globally, cattle produce 60 million tonnes of methane every year - 75 per cent of all livestock emission - and the Kyoto protocol is aimed at keeping methane increases below 8 per cent by 2012 compared with 1990 baseline figures.

For years, scientists have worked on producing feeds, including yoghurts, cough lozenges, plant combinations and friendly bacteria in an effort to reduce the animals’ production of the damaging gas.

Now, scientists at the Fonterra Research Centre believe they can tackle the problem by producing a "green cow".

Published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry next month, the researchers believe they can alter cattle digestion by either removing the micro-organisms that produce the methane from cows’ stomachs or by creating micro-organisms in cows that can produce digestive products other than methane.

Due to advances in biotechnology, the centre also predicts changes to the global dairy farming industry including designer milk. Organic milks are already available at supermarkets, but a new breed of designer milks are on the drawing board that will boost consumers’ immunity and protect against certain illnesses.

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