Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Stonyfield Greener Cow Project

Photo is licensed under a Creative Commons license by kevinzim

Most of us are aware cows produce methane (a greenhouse gas) and we know that methane contributes to global warming. But did you know the common assumption being the cows produce all that methane gas from farts and cow pies is actually false?

While Stonyfield was doing extensive studies to see how reduce their carbon footprint, they discovered the cows were the leading source, rather than the manufacturing plant processes. It was only later that they learned of an approach from their French partner that reduces the methane output… and by good fortune, also increases the nutritional content of the milk.

The approach turned out to be changing the feed for the cows. 95% of the methane from cows comes from burping (enteric emissions), and burping is significantly reduced either by putting cows on pasture, or by changing the feed to include more omega-3s from things like flax, alfalfa and grasses. These feeds are easily broken down by the cow’s rumen (the first chamber of the 4 chambers in a cow’s stomach). The rumen serves as the primary site for microbial fermentation of ingested feed. A cow’s stomach is not designed to digest the corn fed to them in feedlots, and so it produces a lot of gas trying to digest the corn.

Stonyfield began their Greener Cow pilot program in late 2008, with 15 Vermont Organic Valley farms that supply the milk for Stonyfield’s yogurt. The feed change has resulted in the milk’s increase of omega-3s and a decrease in saturated fats, along with a reduction of methane produced by the cows. The enteric emissions (burping) have been decreased by as much as 18%, with an average of 12%.
“If every US dairy were to adopt this approach, in less than one year, the amount of greenhouse gas emissions we could reduce would be the equivalent of taking more than 500,000 cars off the road, “ said Nancy Hirshberg, Stonyfield V.P. of Natural Resources and the director of the Stonyfield Greener Cow Project.

The omega-3s in the milk increased by nearly 1/3 (29%) and lowered the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 (that balance regulates key human physiological functions). According to research, human diet today contains too much omega-6 and too little omega-3 (both are essential fatty acids).

“Only plants can synthesize omega-6 and omega-3. By eating animals that have consumed plants high in omega-3, humans get this important nutrient. Over the past 50 years, though, our diets have changed and we now consume more omega-6 rich foods such as corn oil, palm oil and soybean oil. We also changed what livestock eat by increasing the amount of corn and soy in their feed, and decreasing grass, which is high in omega-3. The result is that eggs, meat and
dairy have less omega-3. Thus, the omega-6 to omega-3 ratio in our diets--which used to be about 1or 2 to 1--is now out of balance with about 20 times more omega-6 than omega-3,” said Artemis P. Simopoulos, M.D., international authority on essential fatty acids and former chair of the Nutrition Coordinating Committee at the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Studies have shown that by improving the balance of omega-6 to omega-3, we decrease our chances of cardiovascular disease, obesity and many other health complications. The Greener Cow Project will benefit the cows, the planet and our bodies... which sounds like a great plan to me.

There is a nice video about this here:
The Greener Cow Project.

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