New York: A compound added to the feed of high-producing dairy cows reduces methane emissions by 30 percent and could have ramifications for global climate change, says a new study.
Methane expulsion through burping represents a net loss of feed energy for livestock, said lead researcher Alexander Hristov, professor of dairy nutrition at Pennsylvania State University in the US.
But the cows that consumed a feed regimen supplemented by the novel methane inhibitor compound over the course of the 12-week study gained 80 percent more body weight than cows in a control group.
The spared methane energy was used partially for tissue synthesis, which led to a greater body weight gain by the inhibitor-treated cows, Hristov explained.
Significantly, feed intake, fibre digestibility and milk production by cows that consumed the supplement did not decrease, the findings showed.
The study is noteworthy because methane is a potent greenhouse gas.
Globally, according to the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organisation, animal agriculture emits 44 percent of the methane produced by human activity.
Fermentation in the rumen -- one of the four stomach chambers of livestock such as cattle, sheep and goats -- generates the methane, as a result of micro-organisms that aid in the process of digestion.
The animals must expel the gas to survive.
The 3-nitrooxypropanol -- or 3NOP supplement -- blocks an enzyme necessary to catalyse the last step of methane creation by the microbes in the rumen, the study said.
The 3NOP compound, developed by DSM Nutritional Products, a Dutch company that is one of the world's leading suppliers of feed additives, seems to be safe and effective, Hristov said.
If approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and adopted by the agricultural industry, this methane inhibitor could have a significant impact on greenhouse gas emissions from the livestock sector, Hristov suggested.
The findings were published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.