Overseeing the cow’s welfare is Mette Nielsen, a professor in animal sciences at Aarhus University, who explains the purpose of Daisy’s confinement. Inside the box, every burp, belch and gaseous emission can be measured. Cows’ burps are rich in methane, a greenhouse gas, and only by recording them in this way can we start to unravel how to mitigate the damage livestock farming can do to the climate.
The cattle industry contributes 40% of all methane emissions from food production. They’re not the biggest contributors, that title goes to rice, but researchers are keen to clean up their act. It is part of a new wave of farming methods and high-tech solutions aimed at turning farming from being a climate change problem to a part of the solution.
This is not only changing the climate, but also affecting our ability to grow food in the first place. Drought, flooding, high temperatures and rising sea levels are turning productive parts of our planet into places that are incapable of growing food.
But what if we could produce food in a way that not only reduces the impact farming has on the planet, but could even be beneficial for the climate.
Cattle are ruminants, meaning part of their digestive system (the rumen) is designed to ferment low-nutrition foods like grasses and leaves. It contains an assortment of microbes that help them extract as many nutrients as they can from their food. Unfortunately, some of these microbes produce methane that is then released from the rumen. And it is here that Nielsen has turned her focus.
"It’s not the cow that produces the methane, it’s these microorganisms called Archaea," she says. "So if we could just block this process and persuade the Archaea not to produce the methane we would basically have a climate neutral cow.”
While some might argue that giving up cattle farming altogether might be the best way to mitigate climate change, as Nielsen explains to James Wong in the video below, for many people giving up beef is not a reasonable solution.