The Business of Burps: Scientists Smell Profit in Cow Emissions – NY Times

Written by Adam Satariano

LANCASTER, England — Peaches, a brown-and-white Jersey cow weighing 1,200 pounds, was amiably following Edward Towers through a barn on a sunny March morning when the 6-year-old dug in her front hooves.

Mr. Towers, a 28-year-old-farmer whose family owns Brades Farm, near Britain’s rugged Lake District, slapped Peaches gently to move her along. She didn’t budge. Already muddy from a morning herding hundreds of cows to a milking session, Mr. Towers leaned all his weight into Peaches’ ample backside, until she finally stepped through a metal gate that would hold her head still for an exam.

Deepashree Kand, a scientist studying animal nutrition, stepped forward with a device about the size of a grocery-store scanner. As David Bowie’s “Changes” played on a radio, Ms. Kand pointed a green laser at the cow’s nostril and waited for Peaches to belch.

Ms. Kand’s employer, a Swiss company called Mootral, is studying whether an altered diet can make cattle burp and fart less methane — one of the most harmful greenhouse gases and a major contributor to climate change. If they were a country, cows would rank as the world’s sixth-largest emitter, ahead of Brazil, Japan and Germany, according to data compiled by Rhodium Group, a research firm.

It is a well-known problem that has had few promising solutions. But in the last five years, a collection of companies and scientists has been getting closer to what would be an ecological and financial breakthrough: an edible product that would change cows’ digestive chemistry and reduce their emission of methane.

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