Wind of change for flatulent farm animals

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Scientists believe they have hit upon a solution to the wind problem of sheep and cows, writes Mark Rowe. They want farmers to add a special bacteria to stock feeds that will cut significantly the amount of methane emitted.

Scientists believe they have hit upon a solution to the wind problem of sheep and cows, writes Mark Rowe. They want farmers to add a special bacteria to stock feeds that will cut significantly the amount of methane emitted.

Up to 25 per cent of the world's methane gas emissions are caused by ruminants, animals which chew the cud, and that contributes to global warming. In the UK, cows and sheep are thought to expel 1.1 million tons every year, the second largest source of the gas after landfill sites.

Sheep and cattle produce methane in their fore stomach in a natural process of fermentation, the sugars from the plants they eat being broken by micro-organisms into simpler nutrients that can be used to produce milk.

Now scientists at the Centre for Dairy Research at Reading University have identified a strain of bacteria that can break down methane. Initial laboratory studies, supported by the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Fisheries, have been encouraging and researchers liken the bacteria to health-promoting yoghurts for humans.

"The global increase in the standard of living means an increase in milk and meat production," said Professor Richard Ellis, head of the university's Department of Agriculture. "That has led to a rise in numbers of livestock, and a rise in methane production."

Limiting methane production by livestock is seen as an easy way to reduce emissions. "It will be a lot easier to get a few farmers to change the diets of their livestock than to get 50 million Britons to use their cars less," said Professor Ellis.

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