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Changes To Cow Diet Combats Climate Change

September 11, 2010

Climate change may be combated by changing the diet of livestock, whose farting and manure, along with the feed crops produced, contribute to 18 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, according to a new study.

The International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), which conducted the study, said as the growing global demand for meat and milk surges it recommends simple steps to curb livestock-related greenhouse gas emissions.

ILRI recommended using more nutritious grasses, supplementing diets with crop residues, restoring degraded grazing fields and adopting more productive breeds.

It noted that in Latin America, switching cows from natural grasslands to pastures sown with a more nutritious grass known as Brachiaria can increase milk production and weight gain by up to three fold.

“Even if only about 30 percent of livestock owners switch from natural grass to Brachiaria… that alone could reduce carbon dioxide emissions by about 30 million tons per year,” said Philip Thornton, an analyst with ILRI.

The study pointed out that the livestock industry contributes about one fifth of the world’s greenhouse gases, largely through deforestation to make room for grazing lands and feed crops, the methane given off by ruminant animals, and the nitrous oxide emitted by manure.

Scientists agree that the burden of changing livestock production practices would be placed mostly on half a billion of the poorest farmers in tropical countries.

Thornton estimated that at 20 dollars per ton — the current rate of carbon on the European Climate Exchange — poor livestock farmers in tropical countries could generate nearly 1.3 billion dollars a year in carbon revenues.

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