Although it leaves the atmosphere much faster than carbon dioxide, methane is actually a huge problem for the environment, and a significant contributor to global climate change. Carbon gets most of the press, partly because it has such a lasting effect, but methane does a lot of damage too, in fact it’s 25 times as potent a greenhouse gas as carbon dioxide, and most of it come from ruminants like cows, who produce it as a byproduct of their digestion. Finding ways to reduce this methane production will have a huge benefit for the climate, and a team of researchers at Aarhaus University in Denmark think they might have found a way to reduce emissions by as much as 25%: oregano.
Specifically, their hypothesis is that, by introducing oregano into cattle diets, they can reduce the methane because of the oils contained in that herb. They’re setting out on a four year study to determine how well this will work, and try to figure out ways to promote the idea and work it into existing dairy programs. Of course, beef cattle also produce lots of methane, so that’s a goal as well, but they’re starting with dairy.
Why oregano? Well, there are other ways to modify cattle diets to reduce methane, but for organic farmers, many of those are taboo. Oregano is just fine however. So figuring out the right balance will allows organic dairy farmers, who have a growing section of the market, to modify their animals’ diets without compromising their ideals. And if it works for them, it will certainly work for dairy farmers who don’t care about the organic labels. There might also be a change to the flavor of milk, as it can improve the milk’s fatty acid composition. The researchers are hoping that fact will help to sell farmers on the process, as they can offer “better” milk to their customers.