The Reef-and-Beef Project

Happy cows are proof that ignorance is bliss. They burp up huge amounts of methane–a greenhouse gas 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide–without a trace of guilt over their carbon hoofprint.

As consumers of dairy products and beef, however, human beings can’t claim ignorance. The cows we raise are the single biggest source of methane emissions in the United States, according to the EPA.

Fortunately, a few people are doing something about it. Researchers at James Cook University in Australia have determined that feeding nutritious dried algae to cows in place of traditional feed can slash bovine emissions of methane by 20 to 40 percent, according to a recent article in The Australian.

“These algae are about 20 per cent protein, and carry a lot of other vitamins and minerals, including salt,” James Cook University nutritionist Tony Parker told Stock and Land magazine (recommended bedtime reading). ”The cattle we’ve got came up and hooked straight into it, so it seems they like it.”

Independent studies show that dairy cows fed with bio-algae concentrates produce 20 percent more milk than other cows, with higher protein and fat content.

In a win-win-win, the algae can be grown in aquaculture farms along with seaweed to clean effluent waters of nitrogen and phosphorous from agricultural runoff. Left untreated, such pollutants cause eutrophication, harming fisheries and ocean reefs. So-called “algal turf scrubbers” are now a mainstay of modern bio-remediation.

“I like to call it the reef and beef project because it has far reaching implications that come full circle: starting with seaweed, taking in the beef and aquaculture industries, and extending back out to the sea to help conserve the Great Barrier Reef,” Parker added.

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