Penn State study shows food additive could curb cows’ methane emissions

  • Rachel McDevitt/StateImpact Pennsylvania

(Harrisburg) — Ruminants–like cows and sheep–are significant contributors to global methane emissions.

The average dairy cow belches about 350 pounds of the potent greenhouse gas each year.

Researchers at Penn State say a food additive for could help cut those emissions.

Alexander Hristov, Distinguished Professor of Dairy Nutrition in Penn State’s Department of Animal Science, said his recent study found a small amount of a compound known as 3-NOP added to a cow’s normal diet reduces its methane output by 25 percent. Cows in the study didn’t experience any side effects in terms of health, milk production, or reproductive effects.

Hristov said that finding is consistent with past research done at Penn State and elsewhere.

He said inhibiting methane production during a cow’s digestion can leave that animal with more energy and make it more productive.

He hopes his research can help the additive win approval from the Food and Drug Administration.

“Because that will not only reduce total emissions [and] improve energetics of the animal, but it will be beneficial for society as well,” Hristov said.

He said widespread use could be critical in reducing the carbon footprint of dairy and beef production and help avoid the worst effects of climate change.

Hristov noted methane from animal agriculture makes up about 5 percent of total U.S. greenhouse gases emissions, while much more comes from the energy and transportation sectors.

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