'Kowbucha' could reduce methane produced from cow burps, study shows

A single cow will belch about 220 pounds of methane in a year, contributing to greenhouse gas emissions. New Zealand leaders are proposing a tax on agricultural emissions from livestock.

New Zealand researchers say they found a probiotic formula known as "kowbucha" to reduce methane emissions from cow burps by 20%. 

The research could help New Zealand farmers as government leaders recently proposed taxing greenhouse emissions from agriculture.

Methane is a greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming, and according to the Environmental Protection Agency, one-third of greenhouse gases are from human-related methane emissions. 

Another methane contributor is livestock. Cattle are the No. 1 source of agricultural methane emissions worldwide, according to the University of California, Davis. A single cow will belch about 220 pounds of methane in a year. However, according to UC Davis, beef cattle only account for about 4 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.

But in New Zealand, the 10 million cattle population outnumbers the 5 million people living there. Nearly half of New Zealand's greenhouse gas emissions come from agriculture, and 88% of gross methane emissions come from livestock.

Agricultural scientists at Fonterra’s Palmerston North Research and Development Centre in Palmerston North, New Zealand, have been using dairy cultures to create a fermentation formula called "Kowbucha."

By feeding the cows a probiotic supplement, researchers hope to show through ongoing trials that this method could help reduce greenhouse gas emissions from cows. 

The first cattle trial at the Fonterra R&D Center found a reduction of methane emissions by 20%. 

Researchers say farmers can feed the "kowbucha" formula to calves and have lasting results.  

Reducing methane emissions was a leading topic at last year's United Nations Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, Scotland. During the conference, President Joe Biden announced a plan to cut methane emissions by 30% by 2030, joining the European Union and other nations to reduce greenhouse gas contributors. 

New Zealand has pledged to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 10% by 2030 and 47% by 2050 to become carbon-neutral. Under the proposed tax, farmers would begin to pay a tax on emissions in 2025. However, a final vote needs to happen before that takes effect.