Ruminants(which include cattle, sheep and goats) have a complicated digestive system which allows them to digest very fibrous food. They have a multi-chambered stomach which digests food via a fermentation process. The by-product of that process is methane.The process has served ruminants well for 54 million years, but now European scientists want to find ways to change it so as to save the planet from the havoc of climate change.
There have been attempts to capture the rear end emissions using bags. What do do about the belching? Scientists are gathering in Scotland (flying in from all over) to come up with a plan. They will be spending millions of dollars on the four-year Ruminonmics research project. It could be a matter of changing the cow diet or tweaking the micro-organisms involved in the digestive process or maybe even genetically altering the cows.
Scientists from across Europe are gathering in Aberdeen this week to draw up a programme of research aimed at mitigating some of the causes of climate change, as well as benefiting rural communities and addressing global food security.
The € 7.7 million, four-year project is a partnership between 11 European organisations, and will be coordinated by Professor John Wallace of the Rowett Institute of Nutrition and Health at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland, UK.
The demand for livestock products is growing, and the health of the farming industry is vital to the sustainability of rural communities. Farm animals are however significant contributors to the emission of the ‘greenhouse gas’ methane, but there is still much uncertainty around how this happens.
Professor Wallace explains the aims of the collaboration as follows: “Ruminomics aims to increase the efficiency – and decrease the environmental footprint – of the farming of ruminant livestock, and to significantly advance current knowledge in this sector.
“The project will exploit state-of-the-art technologies to understand how ruminant gastrointestinal microbial ecosystems – called microbiomes – are controlled by the host animal, and by their diet, and how this impacts on greenhouse gas emissions, efficiency and product quality.
The Europeans aren’t the only ones who want to change what comes out of cows. After all the problems of tainted baby formula, Chinese scientists produced genetically modified cow milk that is 80% the same as human breast milk.
Li’s team, which is supported by a major Chinese biotechnology company, aims to have an affordable form of the milk on the market within three years.
Behind their efforts is a series of poisonings and toxin scandals that have shaken consumer trust in China’s dairy sector and its products.
Perhaps humans are causing more problems for the cows than vice versa.
UPDATE: Remember Yvonne, the runaway cow in Germany? She escaped while on her way to slaughter. She eluded attempts to apprehend her. At one point there was a shoot-to-kill order out for her. Public opinion rallied in favor of Yvonne and the order was rescinded. In fact the authorities forbade anyone to go after Yvonne with deadly force. Finally after three months on the run, she was brought back to captivity. She is now a resident of the The Gut Aiderbichl animal sanctuary. The news is there is now a film project underway about her exploits.
It was only a matter of time before Hollywood milked the story of this intrepid bovine.
If you have a cow tale to share, send to me at pats-at-tammybruce-dot-com