Cows produce so much methane that just 90 of them can cause a barn to spontaneously burst into flames. But bovine burps and farts are causing far more damage than the occasional barnburner.
The methane expelled by cattle is 21 times more harmful to the atmosphere than CO2, and every day a single cow relieves itself of some 500 liters (or 132 gallons) of explosive, climate-changing gas. All in all, cows and their ruminant cohorts (goats, sheep, and oxen) pump a staggering 80 million metric tons of gas into our fragile atmosphere.
With demand for milk, steaks, and burgers not diminishing any time in the foreseeable future, scientists are scrambling to find a way to cut down on cattle gas, and help may be on the way in the unlikely form of oregano. While oregano can be used to reduce digestive gas in humans, a team of researchers from Denmark has begun experimenting with the herb's use in cows.
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"Oregano has essential oils with a mild antimicrobial called carvacrol, which can kill some of the bacteria in the cow's rumen that produce methane," Kai Grevsen, a senior researcher at Aarhus University told NPR. "Of course, you can't kill all of the bacteria, or the cow would die."
Grevsen will be conducting research into the effects of oregano on cow digestion—research to be funded in part by the Danish government and milk companies like Naturmælk, which are trying to make a more environmentally friendly product.
And while there have been previous studies looking at the effects of oregano on cow gas, Grevsen's will run through 2019, making it significantly more thorough than past investigations into the matter. It will also be the be the first to use Greek oregano, which has a much higher concentration of the essential oil which combats gas.
But oregano isn't cheap and nobody is quite sure how such a high dosage of oregano could affect the taste of milk or meat. Still, a hint of oregano in our food couldn't be worse than allowing burps and farts to continue ravaging the thin layer of atmosphere which makes life possible on this planet.