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Combat Climate Change with Less Gassy Diet for Cows, Study Says

For related articles and more information please visit OCA's Resource Center on Farm Issues or our Resource Center on Environment and Climate.

NAIROBI -- Climate change can be curbed by changing the diet of livestock, whose feed crops, farting, belching, and manure contribute a fifth of the planet's greenhouse gas emissions, a new study said Friday.

The study by the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) said livestock numbers are likely to grow as global demand for meat and milk surges.

It recommended simple steps to curb livestock-related greenhouse gas emissions: using more nutritious pasture grasses, supplementing diets with crop residues, restoring degraded grazing lands, and adopting more productive breeds, among other simple measures for tropical countries.

ILRI noted that in Latin America, switching cows from natural grasslands to pastures sown with a more nutritious grass called Brachiaria can increase daily milk production and weight gain by up to three-fold. "Even if only about 30 percent of livestock owners in the region switch from natural grass to Brachiaria ... that alone could reduce carbon dioxide emissions by about 30 million tons per year," said ILRI's Philip Thornton.

"Livestock enterprises contribute about 18 percent of the world's greenhouse gases, largely through deforestation to make room for livestock grazing and feed crops, the methane ruminant animals give off, and the nitrous oxide emitted by manure," the study pointed out.