Vaccine gives hope for reduced livestock methane emissions

by Rebecca Macfie / 08 November, 2017
RelatedArticlesModule - Vaccine livestock emissions

No burping, please – you’re warming the planet. Photo/Getty Images

A vaccine is the best hope for limiting livestock methane emissions but a commercial product remains years away.

Years of research into reducing New Zealand’s agricultural greenhouse gas emissions have so far failed to produce a solution, although farming leaders insist there is cause for optimism.

The main targets are methane and nitrous oxide, which together account for about half New Zealand’s emissions. Methane is produced in the rumen of cattle, sheep, deer and goats, where microbes – methanogens – break down the animals’ food. In the process, they produce methane, most of which is belched into the atmosphere.

Most nitrous oxide comes from animal urine. The nitrogen released by a cow urinating on a paddock is more than the soil and plants can take up, and some of the surplus is converted into nitrous oxide and some is leached through the soil as nitrate. The wetter and more compacted the soil, the more nitrous oxide is produced.

Rick Pridmore, chairman of the Pastoral Greenhouse Gas Research Consortium, says researchers have found forages such as brassicas that reduce the amount of methane produced in the rumen, but the gains are likely to be offset by an increase in nitrous oxide emitted from the soil. That’s because farmers use break-feeding – using a moveable electric fence to ration grazing – which leads to pugging and compaction of soils that in turn increases nitrous-oxide emissions.

Some animals have been found to be genetically primed to produce lower methane, says Pridmore. The problem is that it could take 20 years to breed that trait through the whole population, and produce only a 5% reduction in methane. “That doesn’t mean we walk away from that, but we are working on the premise that we need solutions that work by 2030.”

Rick Pridmore.

Key areas of research are chemical inhibitors that could be administered in bolus form into the animal to counteract methane production, or a vaccine to tackle methanogens.

A German company has developed an inhibitor that it claims can reduce methane by 30%, and is aiming to have a product on the market by 2019. But it is geared towards livestock raised in feedlot systems typical of the Northern Hemisphere, and is not regarded as practical to administer to New Zealand’s pasture-grazing animals.

Pridmore says the consortium is also working on an inhibitor, and has identified five compounds that could work. But he says a commercial product that farmers could use is at least eight years away.

The most promising area of New Zealand research is on vaccine development but, again, a commercial product is at least seven years away. He says the aim is to knock back methane production by at least 20%, which researchers believe can be done without affecting animal productivity.

A vaccine would be developed from antibodies in the animals’ saliva and would generate an immune response to thwart the activity of the methanogens.

If a commercial vaccine can be developed, the global market could be enormous. Research by scientists here and overseas has shown all ruminants have the same kind of methanogens, regardless of diet or species. “That means when you find the solution for dairy cows and sheep, it is probably going to work on every ruminant in the world,” says Pridmore. “That’s why we are so wedded to trying to do this very difficult task. Everything I know about the vaccine gives me great positive feelings that they are going to nail the impossible.”

This article was first published in the October 21, 2017 issue of the New Zealand Listener.


Naseby's chilliest night means a rare opportunity for curling
96697 2018-09-25 00:00:00Z Sport

Naseby's chilliest night means a rare opportunity …

by Guy Frederick

Weather conditions have to be perfect for an outdoor curling match – last winter, for the first time in seven years, Naseby delivered.

Read more
Students walk out of Hamilton high school over principal's truancy comments
96723 2018-09-24 14:06:35Z Education

Students walk out of Hamilton high school over pri…

by RNZ

More than 100 students walked out of a Hamilton high school in protest after the principal said truants are more likely to wind up being a rape victim

Read more
Colin Craig drops damages claim against former press secretary
96717 2018-09-24 13:10:01Z Politics

Colin Craig drops damages claim against former pre…

by RNZ

Colin Craig has withdrawn his claims for damages against his former press secretary Rachel MacGregor but is still suing her for defamation.

Read more
PM in New York: Ardern's first speech focuses on lifting children from poverty
96691 2018-09-24 07:54:36Z Politics

PM in New York: Ardern's first speech focuses on l…

by Chris Bramwell

Jacinda Ardern has used her first speech in the US to recommit the government to making New Zealand the best place in the world to be a child.

Read more
Give Kate A Voice: Bringing Kate Sheppard's speeches to life
96352 2018-09-24 00:00:00Z History

Give Kate A Voice: Bringing Kate Sheppard's speech…

by Noted

Famous Kiwi women read the powerful words of Kate Sheppard, who fought for the right for women to vote.

Read more
Ladies in Black – movie review
96686 2018-09-24 00:00:00Z Movies

Ladies in Black – movie review

by Russell Baillie

This nicely nostalgic female coming-of-age tale set in a Sydney department store almost sings.

Read more
A Southern man goes for gold in Garston growing hops
95518 2018-09-24 00:00:00Z Small business

A Southern man goes for gold in Garston growing ho…

by Mike White

Nelson and Motueka are well known for their hops but Garston hops are starting to be noticed by brewers.

Read more
How to lower your exposure to potentially toxic household products
96525 2018-09-24 00:00:00Z Health

How to lower your exposure to potentially toxic ho…

by Nicky Pellegrino

Alexx Stuart advocates changing one thing a week. With personal-care items, she says the place to start is body lotion.

Read more