Saturday, November 27

Kowbucha, algae, vaccines: the race to reduce methane emissions from cows | Environment

IIn 2017, Canadian ranchers in Alberta began introducing a special ingredient in their animals’ feed. The cows remained unconscious, their forage did not taste different, but by chewing, they had enlisted in the fight against the climate crisis.

Feeding, called Bovaer, contained 3-NOP, an organic compound that inhibits the production of methane by cows. The farmers eventually fed the enriched forage to 15,000 animals and collectively reduced their methane emissions by an average of 30% and as much as 80%. In September, the ingredient was approved for use in Brazil, the world’s second largest producer of beef.

3-NOP is one of several methods being developed to reduce methane from cows. Methane has a shorter life in the atmosphere compared to other greenhouse gases, but while it is there it has a great impact, with a warming effect. more than 30 times greater than carbon dioxide.

Agriculture is the largest anthropogenic source of this gas, which represents about 40% – and cattle generate about 32% of that, largely attributed to more than One billion head of cattle, WHO I usually burp it.

The enormous power of methane means that limiting the amount that reaches the atmosphere “presents a great opportunity for us to reduce our contribution to global warming in the short term,” said Bojana Bajželj, researcher in food sustainability sciences at the Swedish University of Sciences. Agricultural.

Governments are taking notice. In September, the US and the EU launched a joint commitment to reduce methane emissions by at least 30% by 2030. Innovators are offering a fleet of new solutions to address your bovine source, from 3-NOP to vaccines. But as these innovations attract more attention and funding, experts worry that they may distract from other, more systemic ways of reducing agriculture’s footprint.

Cows in a cattle feedlot in Kersey, Colorado, with a capacity of 98,000 head of cattle.
A cattle feedlot in Kersey, Colorado, with a capacity of 98,000 head of cattle. Photograph: Jim West / Alamy Stock Photo

Mark van Nieuwland, program director at Royal DSM, the Dutch bioscience company behind the Bovaer, believes that livestock can be an exceptionally powerful tool in dealing with the climate crisis. “Our invention reduces methane in 20 minutes after use, so this is probably the most direct impact it could have on the climate,” he said.

It works by inhibiting the enzymatic activity of methanogens, the microbes that break down food in a cow’s rumen and generate methane as a metabolic by-product. Adding small amounts to a cow’s daily diet can reduce methane production by 30-90%, depending on the type of feed, research shows, without affecting the animals’ appetite or the taste of dairy or dairy. the meat. “It is an unapologetic decision to do something about methane,” van Nieuwland said. Bovaer is now approved in Chile and Brazil, and DSM anticipates approval from several European nations later this year, and the US. largest meat producer – in 2022.

Researchers are also exploring a compound that destroys methane from an unlikely source: the feathery leaves of Asparagopsis algae. Many of these widely present species of seaweed contain the compound bromoform, which similarly blocks the enzymatic reactions of methanogens when incorporated into food.

Ermias Kebreab, a researcher on the environmental impact of livestock at the University of California, Davis, has found that sprinkling 85 g (3 oz) of algae a day on a cow’s feed reduces methane production by more than 80%. The amount is low enough that the cows cannot detect it and the meat has no aftertaste.

“You’re using something that doesn’t need soil, fresh water, or fertilizers to grow, and it reduces methane emissions by staggering amounts. It’s a win-win solution, ”Kebreab said.

Asparagopsis Farms are now springing up off the coasts of Australia, Hawaii, and North America as various startups see their potential, including Blue ocean barns, an American company that has associated with a commercial dairy farm to test their Asparagopsis-Food infused.

Most of these farms are small-scale enterprises and there are still obstacles to increasing production, even according to Research article 2020, the need for much more scientific research on the possible risks and benefits of algae. These include the potential toxicity to cows of some of the substances in seaweed and the environmental implications of growing seaweed on such a large scale.

Asparagopsis, a red alga, in the Canary Islands.
Asparagopsis in the Canary Islands. The algae contain bromoform, which inhibits the production of methane in the stomach of cows. Photograph: Biosphoto / Alamy

All of these innovations fuel a race for meat and dairy companies to reduce their climate impact and appease concerned consumers and investors. Only 20 livestock companies produce more emissions than Germany, Great Britain or France, according to a report by environmental activists.

“You see a lot more involvement from the industry,” said Harry Clark, director of the New Zealand Agricultural Greenhouse Gas Research Center. Fonterra, a New Zealand-based dairy producer, for example, is developing a feed additive targeting the methanogen called Kowbucha – a reference to the fermented drink kombucha – to reduce its emissions, which contribute over 20% of the total for New Zealand paw print.

Clark runs a multi-million dollar, industry-funded government methane research division researching solutions to reduce methane emissions from New Zealand livestock.

One program involves researchers working to identify cattle that are naturally low methane emitters for future breeding. Others are developing an anti-methane vaccine that produces antibodies directed against methanogen. This has been shown to be successful under laboratory conditions, but in a cow’s gut, churned with gastric juices and food, the antibodies struggle to adhere to the correct microbes. Despite this, the investigation continues. “Now we are going through a massive elimination process to try to find better antibodies,” Clark said. “We have almost doubled this [research] program in size because we believe it has a lot of potential. “

Rather than stopping methane at its source, others want to trap it before it is released. UK company Zelp he has created a mask that he says can neutralize about 50% of the methane when cows burp it. Has been endorsed from food giant Cargill, which hopes to start distributing the masks to European dairy farmers in 2022.

There are dozens more methane interventions in developing livestock, according to a recent evaluation co-authored with Ermias Kebreab. But only a handful, including Bovaer and Zelp, have made it to the market. Even here, adjustments still need to be made. For example, Bovaer needs to be constantly in the rumen to function, which means it may be less practical for free-range cattle whose feeding is less controlled (van Nieuwland said that DSM is working to develop slow-release 3-NOPs to help with this).

Other solutions may still be years after commercialization. There is also the question of how to expand them profitably without putting additional pressure on farmers already operating on tight margins. “We should try to manage these transitions in a way that does not harm their livelihoods,” Bajželj said. Allowing farmers using methane reduction methods to pay less taxes or sell their products at a premium are steps that could help, he said. Finding out the right mix of policies and incentives for farmers to use is “a debate that’s still going on,” Clark said.

There is also a debate about the value of investing so much money, time and commercial interest in these innovations when they do not completely solve the climate problem of agriculture. “It is not just about climate change and greenhouse gas emissions. It’s about losing the natural habitat, ”said Bajželj. Grasslands and crop production for livestock use 77% of the planet’s cultivated land (but livestock produce less than 20% of global calories), with consequences for ecosystems and wildlife. Land use change also releases carbon from soils.

Cutting back on dairy and meat may be a more comprehensive solution, Bajželj said. But if we’re going to take that approach, “the focus should absolutely be on Western countries, because that’s where meat consumption is highest. There has been a pretty strong consensus on that for a while, ”he added. In low-income countries, meat and dairy are often primary sources of nutrients, and food choices are a luxury that many lack.

Methane reduction “is only part of the puzzle,” said Bajželj, who fears that the fleet of new methane cutting innovations will steal the limelight from more complex but crucial approaches. But the way forward is to approach this challenge from all angles, he said. Rising GDP and a growing world population point to an increase in meat consumption in the future, suggesting that cows will play a role in modern diets for the foreseeable future.

If someday grocery store shelves have “methane-free” steak, it won’t exactly be an excuse to eat as much meat as we want, but it will be an indication that the burps of the cow it came from were less climatic. nightmare.

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