April 27, 2021
Reducing greenhouse gas emissions and achieving regulatory compliance via inclusion of seaweed into cattle feed
With strict new livestock greenhouse gas emissions on the horizon 80g/day of a particular red algae species reduced beef and dairy cattle methane emissions by 82% and 50% respectively.
By Eric J. Brooks
An eFeedLink Hot Topic
Livestock makes up 10% of all US greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, with cattle and other ruminants responsible for 5% or half this amount. Moreover, cattle emit methane, which is a 5 times more potent GHG than carbon dioxide.
With Asia making world red meat consumption grow at its fastest rate in decades, a way of boosting beef and dairy production while reducing GHG emissions would make it possible to avoid otherwise inevitable new regulations on beef and milk output.
California, for example, has ordered its farms with dairy, beef cattle, and other ruminants to reduce their methane emissions 40% by 2030. Other US states are expected to introduce similar laws and the EU intends to roll out even stricter emission targets. Fortunately, a solution to cattle GHG emissions appears to have been found.
In the 17 March 2021 issue of the journal PLOS ONE, University of California (Davis) animal science professor Ermias Kebreab and graduate student Breanna Roque fed beef cattle 80g/day of red algae (asparagopsis taxiformis) over four feedings, mixed with molasses to hide its taste. They were able to reduce beef cattle methane emissions by 82%. This follows an earlier experiment by Kebreab in 2018, where feeding this red alga to dairy cattle reduced their methane emissions by over 50%.
Thereafter, Kebreab and Rocque also conducted taste tests on the beef and milk produced by the seaweed-fed cattle. They found no flavor differences compared with beef and milk from conventionally fed cattle. Plans to conduct similar GHG emission-reducing tests on fellow ruminants sheep and goats are also underway.
On one hand, it will take time to commercially farm and make available as a feed input enough asparagopsis taxiformis for the estimated one billion cattle being farmed throughout the world, never mind sheep, goats, and other ruminants.
Based on 80g/day inclusion into feed, reducing GHG emissions of all the world's cattle requires that approximately 30,000 tonnes/year of red asparagopsis taxiformis be grown annually. Fortunately, Kebreab states that cultivating this seaweed species is eminently sustainable as, "Growing seaweed doesn't require land, fresh water or fertilizer."
The implications are profound and revolutionary: Kebreab's discovery means that the world can produce up to five times more beef and twice as much dairy milk than it does today without increasing ruminant GHG emissions above present levels.
Along with antimicrobials and excrement by-products, GHG emissions have long been one of the major sustainability issues dogging livestock producers around the world. The substitution of vaccines, phytogenic compounds and organic acids in place of antibiotics ensures that livestock farming cannot pose a direct threat to human health, the use of algae-based, GHG emissions promises to remove the allegation that livestock farming impacts the earth's climate.
Most important of all, it means that even the most feed inefficient ruminants can comply with strict environmental regulations without limiting their production. That is equally great news for both meat exporters –and also for billions of Africans and Asians who want to eat more beef and drink more milk than they do today.
Most important of all, these scientific findings empower the industry to fight back against those who allege cattle farming is unsustainable and bad for the environment.
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