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By Keeping Cows From Burping, This Drug Could Slow Down Climate Change

That cheeseburger may soon be less harmful to the environment

smithsonian.com

An anti-gas drug for cows could make that next burger less toxic to the environment. It’s long been known that one of the biggest culprits for creating greenhouse gases is the meat industry, specifically the cows that make milk and get turned into steak.

As ruminant animals, cows produce tons of methane gas every day in a process called "enteric fermentation," which accounts for up to 26 percent of all methane emissions in the United States, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. With every cow burp, another bubble of methane enters the atmosphere and helps keep a little more heat from leaving the planet. Despite many calls to cut down on meat from multiple environmental organizations, though, Americans don’t seem to want to give up their juicy burgers.

Now, a Dutch company says it has developed a drug that could take the guilt out of eating beef. Enter “Project Clean Cow,” a substance that might be able to relieve the cows of some of their gas without affecting their milk, according to Vice Munchies.

Researchers led by Alexander Hristov of Penn State University ran a 12-week trial on 48 dairy cows who were fed varying levels of the methane-inhibiting powder. The amount of gas the cows burped out was measured by tubes inserted into their nostrils and from sensors inside of their feedlots. By the end of the trial, Hristov found that the methane inhibitor didn’t just cut down on cow burps by 30 percent — the cows also gained a lot of weight.

“In our case, that energy didn’t go to milk production, but the cows actually gained more body weight, basically the energy was directed towards body weight gain,” Hristov tells Chris Mooney for The Washington Post.

According to the results published in the Proceedings of the Natural Academy of Sciences, cows treated with the methane inhibitor gained up to 80 percent more body weight than the control group without their milk being affected. The science seems solid for now, but several experts unconnected to the study told Mooney while that the findings have potential, the trial period was too short to measure the long-term effects of the drug.

“It would be important to extend the study to beyond the 12 weeks of the study, say over a full season or even through multiple seasons to fully assess impact on animals first of all as well as on products quantity and quality,” Francesco Tubiello, an expert with the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization, told Mooney.

But if all goes well, your next steak could not only contribute less to global climate change, but also be juicier – not a bad tradeoff.

About Danny Lewis

Danny Lewis is a multimedia journalist working in print, radio, and illustration. He focuses on stories with a health/science bent and has reported some of his favorite pieces from the prow of a canoe. Danny is based in Brooklyn, NY.

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