cow herd

Called “selective breeding,” Australian researchers are looking into ways of using genetic modification on cattle and sheep so that they produce less methane as part of a new sustainability initiative called Target100.

Launched on March 27th, Target100 is made up of Australian cattle and sheep farmers and industry bodies including Cattle Council of Australia, Sheepmeat Council of Australia, Australian Meat Industry Council, Australian Lot Feeders Association, Australian Meat Processing Corporation and Meat & Livestock Australia.

Methane, the harmful greenhouse gas produced by cattle and sheep flatulence, is considered to be the biggest issue causing global climate change after energy emissions. As part of Target100’s goals, the livestock are genetically altered to produce as much as 40 percent less methane gas than animals currently do today. On average, a grazing cow can release as much as 600 grams of methane into the environment per day. Methane is considered to be 25 times more damaging to the environment than carbon dioxide.

The initiative is aimed at producing a ‘sustainable sheep and cattle industry’ by 2020 to decrease the impact felt by the Australian cattle and sheep farmers, who use nearly half of the country’s landmass. Other aspects of the initiative include animal life cycle assessments, investigations into whether or not it’s possible to establish microbes that could suppress methane production in the digestive system of cattle, manure management, and creating energy from solid livestock waste.

A recent study conducted by the USDA assessed the output of pasture raised versus factory-raised cows and found that the pasture raised animals produced as much as 8 percent less of the toxic gases including methane and carbon dioxide than the factory raised animals.

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Image: Jill Ettinger