Climate-friendly cows bred to belch less methane

Group of brown and white Hereford cows in a lush green paddock behind a wire fence (methane)
Image: Shutterstock

Canadian dairy farmers are breeding cows that possess a climate-friendly genome that means they will burp less methane, Reuters reports.

According to Ben Loewith, a third-generation farmer from Ontario, selectively breeding livestock for lower emissions is “an easy win” for the environment.

Related article: IEEFA highlights “gross under-reporting” of fugitive methane

Livestock account for 14.5% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. Methane is the second-biggest greenhouse gas after carbon dioxide.

Burps are the top source of methane emissions from cattle. The low-methane breeding material is the product of a partnership between genetics company Semex and Canada’s milk-recording agency Lactanet and based on research by Canadian scientists. Semex says adoption of the low-methane trait could reduce methane emissions from Canada’s dairy herd by 1.5% annually, and up to 20%-30% by 2050.

If adopted widely, low-methane breeding could have a “profound impact” on cattle emissions globally, experts say.

The Canadian government currently offers no incentives for low-methane cattle breeding, but the agriculture department told Reuters that Ottawa was working to introduce offset credits for reducing methane through better manure management.

Some countries and food companies have begun to encourage farmers to move to lower-emitting cattle, and from 2025 the New Zealand government will begin taxing farmers for their cattle’s methane emissions.

Related article: Methane the “elephant in the room” in Safeguard Mechanism

Back on his farm in Ontario, Loewith said he was eager to see how selective breeding would play out.

“If it’s something that you’ve doubled down on generation after generation, then the impact becomes more significant.”

Read the full article here.

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