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Denmark's Bovine Bet

The Nordic nation has agreed to help farmers finance a feed additive that is expected to reduce methane emissions from cattle by up to 30 percent, as part of the country's efforts to meet ambitious climate goals. This is a very hot topic and we can expect similar initiatives to play out around the world.

Herd of dairy cattle in Denmark

How scary are cow burps exactly? Measured by their planet-warming power, methane-filled livestock belches are the equivalent of 850 coal plants burning year-round. Estimates vary, but livestock are reckoned to be responsible for up to 14 percent of all greenhouse emissions and methane, belched out by ruminants, accounts for more than a third of the total emissions from agriculture. Hardly surprising, when you discover that the average ruminant produces 250-500 litres of methane a day.

Denmark, a major dairy exporter, could become the first country in the world to price agricultural emissions, including methane emissions from burping cows, a move that has broad political backing, says Reuters. More than half of Denmark's land is farmed, with agriculture accounting for about a third of the country's carbon emissions, according to Danish climate think tank Concito.

Farming has not yet been subject to any climate regulations, but the industry has expressed concerns that a carbon tax would force them to reduce production and close farms.

Instead, farmers and the dairy industry have advocated the use of additives that stop the fermentation process inside the cows' stomach, preventing the production of methane. Hence, Denmark agreeing to help farmers finance a feed additive as a mechanism for reducing emissions.

According to a study published in the journal PLoS One, when beef cattle ate a little bit of seaweed - a small handful - mixed in with their feed each day, they burped out 82 percent less methane. That's the equivalent of closing down 697 coal-fired power stations. Another study in 2019, funded by the US government, got similar results with dairy cows.


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