India to Fight Climate Change Through Less Flatulent Livestock

Published July 6, 2016

Despite its recent announcement it may not adopt the Paris Climate agreement before the end of 2016, India is moving ahead with a unique effort attempting to reduce the greenhouse gases its agricultural sector emits into the atmosphere: creating cows and livestock that burp and fart less. 

India is home to more than 280 million cows, and 200 million more ruminants, including sheep, goats, yaks and water buffalo. According to an analysis of satellite data from the country’s space program, these animals’ emit 13 million tons of methane into the atmosphere every year. Since, methane traps 25 times as much heat as carbon dioxide does on a per molecule basis, reducing animal flatulence could make a difference in India’s emissions accounting, where it is actually likely to increase its carbon dioxide emissions in the coming decades, due to increasing demand for energy. The country expects to double its coal production by 2019.

Experimenting with Feed and DNA 

The New York Times reports, scientists at the Cow Research Institute in Mathura, India are tinkering with cattle feed, in an effort to create a formula that creates less gas for the cows to belch out. 

A separate team of researchers is working on a different way to solve the same problem: using cross breeding techniques to produce less flatulent dwarf cows. 

E.M. Muhammed, Ph.D., has been experimenting with an indigenous strain of miniature cattle that, while producing less milk than typical crossbred cows, are significantly better at withstanding extreme heat and, simultaneously, produce only one-seventh the manure and one-tenth the methane as typical cows. 

“In a side-by-side field trial on a blistering summer afternoon, Dr. Muhammed said, the dwarf cattle did fine while ‘the crossbred animals were struggling to survive — one of them fainted,'” reports the Times. As a result, Muhammed is attempting to isolate what he calls the “thermometer genes” in the miniature cows’ DNA, so his team can develop a heat-tolerant, low emission breed of cattle.

H. Sterling Burnett, Ph.D. ([email protected]) is the managing editor of Environment & Climate News