Cows are responsible for nearly three-quarters of total methane emissions, according to Environment Canada. Most of the gas comes from bovine burps, which are 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas.
Stephen Moore, a professor at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, is examining the genes responsible for methane produced from a cow’s four stomachs in order to breed more efficient, environmentally friendly cows.
The professor of agricultural, food and nutritional science completed primary tests using traditional techniques to breed efficient animals that produce 25 percent less methane than less efficient animals. But more work needs to be done before the long-term impact is known. Moore’s study was published earlier this year in the Journal of Animal Science.
Non burping cows are not nearly as interesting to me as headless cows. Why not just grow the meat?
According to a new economic analysis (.pdf) presented at this week’s In Vitro Meat Symposium in Ås, Norway, meat grown in giant tanks known as bioreactors would cost between $5,200-$5,500 a ton (3,300 to 3,500 euros), which the analysis claims is cost competitive with European beef prices.
With a rising global middle class projected by the UN to double meat consumption (.pdf) by 2050, and livestock already responsible for 18 percent of greenhouse gases, the symposium is drawing a variety of scientists, environmentalists and food industry experts.
“We’re looking to see if there are other technologies which can produce food for all the people on the planet,” said Anthony Bennett of the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization. “Not only today but over the next 10, 20, 30 years.”
Rapidly evolving technology and increasing concern about the environmental impact of meat production are signs that vat-grown meat is moving from scientific curiosity to consumer option. In vitro meat production is a specialized form of tissue engineering, a biomedical practice in which scientists try to grow animal tissues like bone, skin, kidneys and hearts. Proponents say it will ultimately be a more efficient way to make animal meat, which would reduce the carbon footprint of meat products.
“To produce the meat we eat now, 75 to 95 percent of what we feed an animal is lost because of metabolism and inedible structures like skeleton or neurological tissue,” Jason Matheny, a researcher at Johns Hopkins and co-founder of New Harvest, a nonprofit that promotes research on in vitro meat, told Wired.com. “With cultured meat, there’s no body to support; you’re only building the meat that eventually gets eaten.”