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The fight against global warming, one cow belch at a time

By Thin Lei Win

From New Zealand to the United States and Kenya to Colombia, scientists are on a mission to fight global warming by making livestock less gassy. Livestock are responsible for about 14.5 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions, according to the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organisation. According to calculations by some experts, this puts the livestock sector on par with transport.

The UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says transport is responsible for 14 percent of emissions. Ruminants such as cattle, buffalo, sheep and goats produce nitrous oxide, carbon dioxide and methane, which is the most emitted gas and is released through belching. Scientists are working on ways to reduce those emissions, including by breeding animals that burp less, adjusting their diets so they produce less methane and planting trees in pastures.

"We domesticated ruminants over 10,000 years ago and relatively little has changed. It's time that got an upgrade," said Elizabeth Latham, co-founder of Texas-based Bezoar Laboratories.

Her company is working on a type of probiotic - helpful bacteria or yeasts in the digestive system - which has shown a 50 per cent reduction of methane emissions in cattle during research. Although less prevalent than carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas, methane is more potent because it traps 28 times more heat, according to a 2016 study by the Global Carbon Project, which groups climate researchers.

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