Do our cows need ‘burp blockers’?

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DAIRY farmers in Jersey are working out how to solve a major threat to the world’s climate – cow burps and farts.

Andrew Le Gallais, the former chair of the Jersey Milk Marketing Board, said they were waiting on the results of a two-year-long research project before they decided how to tackle the issue of cow-linked climate emissions, after it emerged British cattle could be given ‘methane blockers’ in a bid to hit climate targets.

As part of its recently published net-zero growth strategy, the UK government said it expected ‘high-efficacy methane suppressing products’ to enter the market from 2025, and that these could be made mandatory in cattle feed ‘as soon as practically possible in England’ if they were effective.

Emissions from cows contribute around 14% of man-made climate emissions globally, according to recent statistics.

Mr Le Gallais said there was ‘no quick fix’ for the issue.

Mr Le Gallais – who retired as chair of the Jersey Milk Marketing Board last year after 23 years – added that their first priority was to ‘measure accurately the emissions’, labelling news reports in the UK on ‘burp blockers’ as ‘rather simplistic’.

‘We are talking about complicated scientific research,’ he said.

Over the last two years, researchers from the University of London have sampled nearly 100 cows on the Island to track how much methane they produce.

Mr Le Gallais said measurements were taken ‘directly from the cow’s nose and mouths to record levels of methane for us to achieve a solid foundation for action’.

National Farmers’ Union deputy president Tom Bradshaw told UK media that most methane was emitted by cows from ‘the front end rather than the back end’.

The most recent available research in 2019, published in the Carbon Neutral Roadmap, revealed that the agriculture industry produced 6% of all of the Island’s greenhouse gas emissions.

The roadmap also stated that within the agriculture sector, methane contributed 60% of overall emissions.

According to the roadmap, agricultural emissions had ‘steadily decreased’ since 1990, largely due to declining numbers of dairy herds in the Island.

Mr Le Gallais added that methane emissions from cows could even be harnessed.

‘Through anaerobic digestion there is a potential opportunity to harness methane from dairy farms,’ he said. ‘It’s in its infancy but we are looking at our long-term position. We want to do things in a thoroughly professional manner.’

Former Environment Minister Steve Luce, who now chairs the Environment, Housing and Infrastructure Scrutiny Panel, said: ‘It’s certainly on everyone’s radar. In the industry they think it’s an issue. Dairy farmers are aware of it – they are trying to alleviate the problem.

‘It’s incumbent on us to try to help farmers.’

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