Giving cows garlic breath could save planet by reducing methane output


GARLIC IS blessed with a reputation for curing everything from the common cold to toothache. Now it may also help save the planet by cutting down on the millions of tonnes of methane produced by cattle chewing the cud.

A Welsh company, Neem Biotech, behind the idea has been given the blessing of British prime minister Gordon Brown, who invited company executives to Downing Street last week.

An ingredient of garlic, allicin, is extracted and could cut down on the amount of methane given off by cattle as they digest grass and feed by up to half, Neem’s chief executive and chairman, Dr David Williams, told The Irish Times.

The company has produced allicin for eight years for use in health-food tablets, but its usefulness in cattle-feed only emerged after it was tested along with 3,000 other plant extracts by the University of Aberystwyth.

Tests by the university using a stomach ‘simulator’ showed that allicin cut methane emissions by 90 per cent, though, so far, the reduction found on the farm is closer to 20 per cent. “But we should get it up to 50 per cent with the dosage right,” Dr Williams said.

One-fifth of all greenhouse gas emissions come from cows, sheep and other ruminants, with each cow emitting 480 litres a day of methane, deemed to be even more dangerous than carbon dioxide.

Branded as Mootral, the allicin produced by the Cardiff company is mixed into cattle-feed, or added to drinking water and, so far, it has been shown both to increase milk production and to boost the conversion of feed into meat.

The product should be commercially available “within one to two years”, said Dr Williams, once on-farm tests under way by the department for environment, food and rural affairs are completed.

So far, Neem does not intend to charge farmers for the revolutionary feed additive, but, rather, it would give it to them for free, and then raise revenue by selling carbon offsetting permits to major carbon producers, such as airlines.

“This is a fine example of how a company with low emission products and services is already seeking out opportunity and shaping the UK’s future economy,” said trade minister Mervyn Davies.