December 1, 2005

Cure for cow flatulence cooked up by UK scientists

LONDON (Reuters) - Cows belching and breaking wind cause
methane pollution but British scientists say they have
developed a diet to make pastures smell like roses -- almost.

"In some experiments we get a 70 percent decrease (in
methane emissions), which is quite staggering," biochemist John
Wallace told Reuters in a telephone interview.

Wallace, leader of the microbial biochemistry group at the
Rowett Research Institute in Aberdeen, said the secret to
sweeter-smelling cows is a food additive based on fumaric acid,
a naturally occurring chemical essential to respiration of
animal and vegetable tissues.

A 12-month commercial and scientific evaluation of the
additive has just begun, but he said if it proves successful it
could be a boon to cutting down on greehouse gas emissions.

"In total around 14 percent of global methane comes from
the guts of farm animals. It is worth doing something about,"
Wallace said. Other big sources of methane are landfills,
coalmines, rice paddies and bogs.

Scientists in Australia and New Zealand have also been
working to develop similar products amid growing concern about
greenhouse gas emissions from cattle and sheep.

In New Zealand the government in 2003 proposed a flatulence
tax, with methane emitted by farm animals responsible for more
than half the country's greenhouse gases. The plan was
ultimately withdrawn after widespread protests.

"We've had more success than they (scientists in Australia
and New Zealand) have. Everyone has been trying different
methods. We just got lucky," Wallace said.