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Belly of the Beast


No we are not talking politics here. This is about ruminant animals and enteric fermentation.

This AACC project is national in scope with partners at six different universities. We also collaborate with a variety of groups when we put on conferences or create materials. We also have the opportunity to the best and most current information from around the world. This last week two of our project members attended the 6th Annual Conference on Greenhouse Gasses and Animal Agriculture.  Here is a report from David Smith – my colleague, who attended the conference.

World’s Leading Scientist Peer into Belly of Beast to Reduce GHG Emissions

Front and center in the debate over what to do about rising levels of greenhouse gases (GHGs) is livestock production. World-wide the FAO estimates the livestock sector contributes about 14.5% of all anthropogenic GHG emissions, mainly in the form of methane (CH4) from enteric fermentation in ruminant animals such as cattle, sheep, and goats. The estimated population of domesticated ruminants in 2014 was 3.9 billion – about 1.5 billion were cattle. Over the last 50 years, the total number of domesticated ruminants has increased about 27 million per year. (There is also a large population of ‘wild’ ruminants although their numbers are unknown.)

That the number of livestock will continue to increase is likely, even with the advances in animal productivity and resource use efficiency that results in more product produced per animal. This is particularly true for developing countries where livestock ownership offers opportunities for small landowners and the rural poor to combat poverty as the demand for milk and meat continues to rise. The ability to sell livestock products such as milk, meat, wool, and leather helps poor families feed their families, improve their nutrition, and send their kids to school. Livestock ownership is also associated with improved social status which is important in establishing a family’s sense of place and value in the community.

“The United Nations estimates that nearly 1 billion head of livestock are tended by more than 600 million small farmers and herders in rural areas across the globe – about 95% live in extreme poverty.”

Considering that the number of ruminants will likely increase in the future with population growth and expanding world markets for agricultural products, many scientists are investigating different ways to reduce the GHG emission from individual animals. I just returned from Melbourne, Australia where I presented the Animal Agriculture & Climate Change project at the Greenhouse Gas & Animal Agriculture Conference.

Every three years, hundreds of the leading scientists around the world gather to present research and discuss different strategies for reducing emissions. I was pleasantly surprised to see the collaboration between chemists, geneticists, and animal scientists who are applying ‘chemogenomic’ methods, similar to those being used to fight against cancer and infectious diseases, to specifically target methanogenic enzymes and develop natural and chemical methane inhibitors. Current methods to alter rumen methanogenisis (ionophores, vaccines, oils, etc.) often show limited effectiveness over the long term. While these products can take several years to develop, chemical inhibitors offer sustained methane inhibition.

It’s great to see some of the world’s best minds and most sophisticated technology being used to address this issue.

-David Smith. AACC Member, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension


Always Considering Climate — David

David Schmidt MS. PE is a researcher and educator in the Department of Bioproducts and Biosystems Engineering at the University of Minnesota and regional project coordinator for the project Animal Agriculture in a Changing Climate,  a national project of the Livestock and Poultry Environmental Learning Center and funded by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

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