Aussie Drug Takes Aim at Sheep Flatulence

ByMichael Perry

S Y D N E Y, Australia, June 7, 2001 -- Australian farmers are signingup their sheep and cattle in droves to take part in a vaccineprogram aimed at reducing harmful methane gas emissions fromtheir animals and help take the heat off global warming.

Methane is a greenhouse gas more potent than carbon dioxideand farm animals produce a lot of it.

Australian scientists said today early results meantthey expect to reduce methane emissions per animal by about 20percent a year, or the equivalent of 300,000 tons of carbondioxide a year if they can vaccinate three million animals.

Australia's 114 million sheep and 27 million cattle areprolific producers of methane by flatulence and burping. Theyproduce total methane emissions equivalent to 60 million tonsof carbon dioxide, or 14 percent of the country's greenhousegas emissions every year.

"If we can reduce methane we can also reduce the effects ofglobal warming," scientist Rob Kelly from the CommonwealthScientific Industrial & Research Organization toldReuters.

More than 635,000 sheep and 410,000 cattle have been signedup for the methane experiment being conducted by the Australiangovernment's scientific body.

"Our goal is to have one million cattle and two millionsheep available for vaccination every year from around 2005 to2012," said Kelly from the CSIRO Livestock Industriesdepartment.

Vaccine Still Years From Use

The methane vaccine is in an experimental stage, with only1,000 animals vaccinated, but the CSIRO hopes that by the timea commercial vaccine is developed in three to four years theywill have the three million animals ready for vaccination.

The methane vaccine discourages Methanogenic archae,organisms which inhabit the animal's digestive system and whichproduce methane by breaking down feed.

"Methane is a very potent greenhouse gas, around 21 percentmore potent in greenhouse terms than carbon dioxide," Kellysaid.

He said scientists expected to not only reduce methaneemissions, which would help reduce global warming, but toimprove the animals' liveweight.

"In sheep it may also improve wool production as methane isa waste gas from feed digestion. A reduction in methaneproduction should leave more nutrients available to theanimals," he said.

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