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Pacific News Minute: Scientists in New Zealand Breed Sheep that Burp Less

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Here in Hawaii,  the noxious gas belching from the eruption of Kilauea continues to be a major concern. In New Zealand, the belches of sheep are a major problem, and scientists there have developed a new breed that burps less.

It’s no joke. The methane gas from 30 million sheep, 10 million cattle and two million deer accounts for 60 percent of New Zealand’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Back in 2016, the government proposed the infamous “Fart Tax” to fund research. Parliament reconsidered after farmers blocked the streets of Wellington.  The government and industry came up with joint funding schemes instead, and research in two areas has been promising.

Two years ago, the Pastoral Greenhouse Gas Research Consortium found five compounds that inhibit methane production inside the sheep’s digestive system. Early tests looked very positive. Methane reduction ranged from 30 to 90 percent, but trials continue to see if that level can be sustained and to ensure that there’s no effect on meat or milk.

Now scientists at the Invermay Agricultural Center say they’ve developed a breeding program that produces low gas sheep.

Credit trf57 / Pixabay

Suzanne Rowe, senior scientist and quantitative geneticist at a research company called AgResearch told ABC Australia that three generations of breeding lines have produced sheep that emit ten percent less methane, and there are side benefits.

“The lower emitting animal tends to eat smaller meals with more frequency,” she said, “which reduces the size of the rumen, the first stomach in a sheep’s digestive system.”

Tests continue, so we’ll have to wait to see how it all comes out.

Over 36 years with National Public Radio, Neal Conan worked as a correspondent based in New York, Washington, and London; covered wars in the Middle East and Northern Ireland; Olympic Games in Lake Placid and Sarajevo; and a presidential impeachment. He served, at various times, as editor, producer, and executive producer of All Things Considered and may be best known as the long-time host of Talk of the Nation. Now a macadamia nut farmer on Hawaiʻi Island, his "Pacific News Minute" can be heard on HPR Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays.
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