Aussie Drug Takes Aim at Sheep Flatulence

Australian farmers are signing up their sheep and cattle in droves to take part in a vaccine program aimed at reducing harmful methane gas emissions from their animals and help take the heat off global warming.

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

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

Australia's 114 million sheep and 27 million cattle are prolific producers of methane by flatulence and burping. They produce total methane emissions equivalent to 60 million tons of carbon dioxide, or 14 percent of the country's greenhouse gas emissions every year.

"If we can reduce methane we can also reduce the effects of global warming," scientist Rob Kelly from the Commonwealth Scientific Industrial & Research Organization told Reuters.

More than 635,000 sheep and 410,000 cattle have been signed up for the methane experiment being conducted by the Australian government's scientific body.

"Our goal is to have one million cattle and two million sheep available for vaccination every year from around 2005 to 2012," said Kelly from the CSIRO Livestock Industries department.

Vaccine Still Years From Use

The methane vaccine is in an experimental stage, with only 1,000 animals vaccinated, but the CSIRO hopes that by the time a commercial vaccine is developed in three to four years they will have the three million animals ready for vaccination.

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

"Methane is a very potent greenhouse gas, around 21 percent more potent in greenhouse terms than carbon dioxide," Kelly said.

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

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