The Democratic climate and healthcare bill includes $25 million to combat enteric emissions produced by cows and farm animals, largely through burps and manure.
The $369 billion Inflation Reduction Act announced by Senate Democrats this week includes funding to address “enteric methane emissions from ruminants,” including by finding alternatives to the animals’ diets, according to the text of the bill.
Cows and other farm animals produce roughly 14% of human-induced climate emissions.
Agricultural researchers have developed a bevy of new methods for reducing enteric methane emissions, including filtering masks for cow noses and feed additives — both synthetic and natural.
One feed supplement developed by Dutch bioscience company BSM reduced methane emissions in dairy cows by 30% and in beef cattle by 80%.
Meanwhile, a study published last spring by University of California, Davis researchers found that introducing seaweed into cattle feed can reduce methane emissions from beef cattle by as much as 82%. “We now have sound evidence that seaweed in cattle diet is effective at reducing greenhouse gases and that the efficacy does not diminish over time,” said Ermias Kebreab, professor and chairman of the Department of Animal Science and director of the World Food Center.
Still, none of these feed additives have been approved for use in the United States. “Nobody knows how long it’s going to take,” Kebreab told Inside Climate News last month. “We are a long way away from that at the moment.”
Though methane emissions from cattle are shorter lived than carbon dioxide, they are 28 times more potent, according to researchers at UC Davis’s Department of Animal Science.
Republicans took aim at the provision.
“This is another example of how out of touch Senate Democrats are,” said Patrick Creamer, the communications director for Republicans on the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry. “Americans are struggling with high prices at every turn — the grocery store, the gas pump, even at home with utilities — and yet Senate Democrats want them to pay billions for Green New Deal programs that were roundly rejected when they were first proposed. With inflation at 9%, these misplaced priorities are reckless and dangerous. ”
Another $300 million in the bill would be aimed at collecting and analyzing information on carbon sequestration on farms.
World leaders have made reducing methane emissions a major priority, and the U.S. and EU agreed last fall to cut these emissions by one-third over the next decade.
“Cutting methane is the biggest opportunity to slow warming between now and 2040,” Durwood Zaelke, a lead reviewer on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, told the Guardian last year.
The possibility that climate policy could focus on cow farts or penalize beef eating has been the source of controversy for years, especially after the introduction of the controversial Green New Deal resolution by left-wing Democrats in 2019.
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A document released by the office of Green New Deal proponent Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), which was later retracted, said: “We set a goal to get to net-zero, rather than zero emissions, in 10 years because we aren’t sure that we’ll be able to fully get rid of farting cows and airplanes that fast.”