Brussels, 04 February 2002
A research project funded by the European Union's Fifth Framework programme for research (FP5) is investigating ways of using plants and herbal extracts to reduce environmentally damaging methane gas emissions from cows and improve their milk production.
The project, involving scientists and commercial partners from Ireland, Spain, Germany, the UK and Switzerland, is being given a 1.94 million euro research grant under the FP5 Quality of Life programme.
Dr John Wallace from the Rowett Research Institute in Aberdeen, UK, who is heading the project, said that methane emissions from grazing animals account for one third of the total EU emissions of the gas. Methane is 20 times as potent at destroying ozone as the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide, he said.
The project aims to explore a range of novel plants and plant extracts which could replace the use of man-made feed additives, such as antibiotics, in controlling gut bacteria in cows, reducing harmful methane emissions, increasing the efficiency of livestock production and slowing the spread of resistance to antibiotics in human infections.
'We know that the release of methane from ruminants is extremely damaging to the environment,' said Dr Wallace. 'Currently, however, methane release levels are increasing at an exponential rate. We believe our work has the potential to halt this increase and help stabilise the environment by taking a natural route to improved rumen fermentation. At the same time, we believe that the current growth in antibiotic resistance in humans, part of which is generally accepted to be linked to the use of antibiotics in animal feeding, could also be reduced.'
Some of the inspiration for the project comes from the Rowett Institute's 20 year partnership with the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The collaboration has aroused interest in the potential feeding value of new plant species. Dr Rowett explained that some of the ILRI's collection of tropical and subtropical plants 'appear to have significant potential value as rumen-manipulating agents with an associated capacity to lead to reduced methane output from the animals concerned.' He said the Rowett Institute is now examining similar promising plants as part of the new EU-supported project.
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