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Belching Cows Less Harmful To Climate: Study

May 30, 2011

A recently released study from Australia’s state-backed research body CSIRO may have climate researchers reconfiguring their conclusions on how harmful belching cows and gaseous sheep actually are to the atmosphere, Reuters is reporting.

Ruminant livestock release large quantities of methane, which can trap 20 times more heat than CO2 alone. One cow can release about 1.5 tons of greenhouse gas emissions a year.

At least half of New Zealand’s greenhouse gas emissions emanate from agriculture and the majority of that is from sheep and cattle. Contrary to popular belief, most of the cattle and sheep emissions are from burping.

Researchers claim the amount of methane from cattle fed on tropical grasses in northern Australia could be nearly a third less than previously believed. These findings were based on results from specially built respiration chambers using Brahman cattle fed tropical grasses.

“The industry is more methane friendly than was previously thought based on the new measurements,” research leader Ed Charmley told Reuters by telephone during a field day near Townsville in northern Queensland state.

About half of Australia’s approximately 27 million head of cattle account for about 4.5 percent of the nation’s total greenhouse gas emissions. A 30 percent reduction in emissions would total about 7.4 million tons, or roughly the amount of a large coal-fired power station.

The government could refine the way it calculates the nation’s annual greenhouse gas accounts with the results of this study. Agriculture is responsible for 15 percent of the Australia’s total greenhouse gas emissions. Changing the diets of sheep and cattle can reduce emissions from agriculture and could also earn carbon credits in a new emissions trading program being debated in the Australian parliament.

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