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Rob Griffith/AP

Australia Tackles Farm Animal Gas Emissions

March 17, 2009 03:22 PM
by Isabel Cowles
In its latest attempt to counter global warming, Australia has announced a research program aimed at developing ways to reduce farm animals' methane gas emissions.

Animal Flatulence Addressed

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In its fight against global warming, Australia announced a new research program focused on reducing farm animal gas emissions. According to Agence France-Press, methane gas produced by “livestock flatulence accounts for about 12 percent of the country's annual greenhouse gas emissions.”

Researchers plan to try various methods to solve the problem, including altering farm animal diets, and “chemical and biological controls of stomach bacteria to reduce methane production.” In additional, “genetic approaches such as selective breeding” will be implemented, reports AFP.

Australia has committed to cutting emissions by 30 percent by 2030, a move that is expected to cost $75 billion, according to The Australian. The plans involve using “clean coal, nuclear and gas technologies rather than renewable energy sources.”

Two months ago, Australian authorities began encouraging citizens to farm kangaroos instead of traditional, methane-producing livestock. According to Australia's department of climate change, gassy farm animals are responsible for almost 70 percent of Australia's agricultural emissions. Some officials expressed hope that promoting consumption of kangaroo meat would result in lower emissions.

Australia’s top climate change adviser, professor Ross Garnaut, noted in a recent report on global warming, “For most of Australia's human history—about 60,000 years—kangaroo was the main source of meat. It could again become important.”

Kangaroos are more environmentally friendly, according to researchers. These marsupials are equipped with unique bacteria in their stomachs that reduce the production of noxious methane gas, the International Herald Tribune explains.

Garnaut noted that shrinking Australia’s total carbon emissions by replacing traditional livestock with kangaroos could make the country more competitive in global emissions trading schemes, where carbon, methane and greenhouse gases come at a price.   

Reference: Kangaroos and greenhouse gases

In 2008, Australian researchers George Wilson and Melanie Edwards published a report in Conservation Letters, the journal of the U.S.-based Society for Conservation Biology, arguing that kangaroos could become a viable food source if farmers drastically reduced sheep and cattle numbers. They also published a follow-up piece to defend their original case for kangaroo meat against critics who questioned the feasibility of the effort.

Related Topic: Dealing with livestock methane

In 2006, the United Nations noted that carbon emissions from cattle and livestock surpass those created by transportation, including driving cars. Industrial farming also causes erosion and pollutes the water supply. According to a senior UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) official, “Livestock are one of the most significant contributors to today’s most serious environmental problems. Urgent action is required to remedy the situation.”

Countries across the world have made efforts to deal effectively with the emissions created by livestock. In the Netherlands, for example, farmers and environmentalists employ a system of cooking manure to release methane gas, which can then be trapped and used to make electricity for local power grids.

Across the world, countries have formed partnerships to deal with the production of methane, notably through the Methane to Markets Partnership (M2M), which includes 21 governments and 630 organizations and companies. M2M works to recover methane gas from landfills, underground coal mines, livestock and oil and gas systems and use it as an energy source.
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