Saturday, May 14, 2016

Can Oregano Fight Cow Belches — and Climate Change?

Normandy cows feed on alfalfa before milking at a farm in Courcite, northwestern France. Feeding cows alfalfa could reduce how much they burp. So could feeding them oregano, which has belch-squelching essential oils. (Credit: Jean-Francois Monier/AFP/Getty Images) Click to Enlarge.
Cows are notoriously gassy creatures.  Globally, more than a third of methane generated by human activity comes from livestock farming, a good deal of it in the form of bovine belching (yes, belching — not the other end). This is a serious problem, given that methane is 25 times more powerful than carbon dioxide at trapping heat.

Enter a Danish research team that is testing out one potential solution in the form of an unassuming herb:  oregano.

"Oregano has essential oils with a mild antimicrobial called carvacrol, which can kill some of the bacteria in the cow's rumen that produce methane," explains Kai Grevsen, a senior researcher at Aarhus University who specializes in crop science.  "Of course, you can't kill all of the bacteria, or the cow would die."

Reining in cow burps is an issue that agricultural scientists have been working on for years, and there are some other promising solutions.  For example, a team at Penn State has reported that adding the chemical 3-nitrooxypropanol (3NOP) to cattle feed can reduce methane emissions by 30 percent.  Other scientists are experimenting with different additives, feed combinations and even an anti-methane vaccine.

Unfortunately, many of these remedies are problematic (or prohibited) for organic farmers.  And — let's face it — the same shoppers likely to consider cow emissions are probably the ones reaching for organic milk.  That's why oregano is so intriguing to researchers.  One of the sponsors of Grevsen's study, along with the Danish government, is Naturmælk, a Danish organic dairy hoping to make its products more climate-friendly.

This isn't the first study to consider oregano for this purpose — in fact, it builds on earlier work by the lead researcher on the 3NOP study.  (Dairy nutrition science is a fairly small world.)  But while previous studies on oregano have been short and sweet, the Danish research, which kicked off earlier this year, will run through 2019.  And it will include both a technical phase (think cows in little booths with lots of sensors) and a real-world phase on several organic dairy farms.

Read more at Can Oregano Fight Cow Belches — and Climate Change?

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