Ben & Jerry's Trying To Stop Its Cows Burping and Farting So Much

Ice cream company Ben & Jerry's is working on editing its cows' diets in an effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from flatulence.

Last month, the company announced a new project to slash greenhouse gas emissions in half on 15 dairy farms by the end of 2024. If successful, the pilot project could be expanded across its entire dairy supply chain.

It's a well-known fact that cows, and the animal farming industry in general, play a huge part in our warming planet. Globally, cows alone are thought to account for roughly 40 percent of methane emissions—a greenhouse gas that is far more potent than carbon dioxide.

Cows
A stock photo shows three cows on a pasture. Globally, cows give off huge amounts of methane, a potent greenhouse gas. tilo/Getty

The main way in which cows give off all this gas is by burping and farting. This is such a serious problem that New Zealand recently announced a draft plan to tax animal emissions starting in 2025.

For Ben & Jerry's, one way to approach the issue is to address the flatulence before it occurs by changing what cows are fed. Later this year, cows at some farms that supply the ice cream company will begin eating a diet containing a small amount of red seaweed.

One red seaweed supplier, Blue Ocean Barns, states that it acts as a "burp suppressant" that allows cows to retain more energy from their food.

However, it'll be slow going. The seaweed supplement is not yet widely available, though Blue Ocean Barns is scaling up production, Fast Company magazine reported. There is also the question of regulatory approval for the new type of feed.

Still, Ben & Jerry's says it is also taking other approaches to reducing its environmental footprint, including helping farmers implement technology that can reduce the methane emissions given off by the 80 pounds of cow poop each animal makes per day. The company also says it will grow more grass and raise the level of homegrown food that cows eat.

"We're working really collaboratively with the farms to try to see what works because we don't know what will stick or what will make sense financially," Jenna Evans, global sustainability manager for Ben & Jerry's, told Fast Company.

In 2016, agriculture, forestry, and land use was the second biggest source of greenhouse gas globally, behind energy production. Livestock and manure gave off more greenhouse gas than aviation and shipping combined in that year.

As mentioned, methane is a powerful greenhouse gas. Although it is shorter-lived than CO2, it has 80 times its warming power in the first 20 years after it reaches the atmosphere.