Cows that Eat Less and Grow Faster? Eco-Friendly Beef Coming to a Supermarket Near You


· Tons of greenhouse gases are emitted by livestock during the digestion process

· Scientists in Scotland think selective breeding is the answer

· Farmers to breed cattle that grow faster but eat less

· Technique could cut methane emissions by a third

· US experts experimenting with dietary changes to improve cattle digestion

Shoppers could see more eco-friendly beef in their supermarkets soon if plans to breed cattle that emit less methane get the go-ahead in 2020. How’s that even possible, you ask? Scientists in Scotland have said that ranchers will breed cows that grow faster but eat less food, making their carbon footprint a lot smaller.

According to Mike Coffey, professor of Livestock Informatics at Scotland´s Rural College (SRUC), experts have been looking at which breeds of cattle eat less food but still grow at the same rate. Professor Coffey said that researchers found a 30% difference in methane emissions from best and worst cattle, noting that if all UK farmers used the most efficient animals, carbon emissions could decrease by almost a third.

It’s hard to imagine that the docile cow can wreak such a huge amount of havoc on the environment. Cows are a ruminant lot that digest their food via a process known as enteric fermentation. This means that the gases, namely methane, produced during this fermentation process have to go somewhere – and that somewhere is into the atmosphere. Methane is famously known as the bad boy of the greenhouse gases. Methane traps heat at a rate 30 times faster and more efficiently than CO2.

Scientists are experimenting with ways of measuring the methane given off by different breeds of cattle, Professor Coffey said. Once experts have perfected the technique, they’ll be able to do the same with other groups of animals – which could cover all types of livestock found in the meat and poultry aisles of our local supermarkets and at restaurants. “My expectation, said Professor Coffey, “is that at some point in the near future there will be product labels that relates to the efficiency or carbon impact of the food.”

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