Methane reduction is a major goal for countries across the globe, with dairy industry contributions increasingly coming under scrutiny. Economies are facing a crossroads between increasing food production to meet demand versus limiting herd size to reduce pollutants. While New Zealand and the Netherlands attempt to flex legislative control as a solution, scientists are looking to the microbiome as a way to lower emissions without reducing livestock inventory, with seaweed a possible answer.
In 2019, Yale Environment 360 discussed the ongoing research into Asparagopis taxiformis, a red macroalgae that grows in tropical waters, as a methane-reducing feed additive in ruminant nutrition. Research into the production and use of red seaweed to reduce methane output in ruminant animals was found to be up to 98% effective with as little as 0.2% inclusion in the livestock’s daily feed. In dairy specifically, an in vitro study by Dr. Brenna Roque and team at the University of California, Davis found that total gas production was reduced by 51.8% and methane production fell by 95% compared to the control. Results vary by type and inclusion rate of Asparagopsis, but preliminary studies have also shown the additive to have little impact on milk components and production.
With promising results, the product has gained the attention of major companies in hopes of achieving announced emissions reduction targets. In June 2022, Danone Manifesto Ventures, the corporate venture arm of the food and beverage company Danone, led a US$7 million Series A funding round in Symbrosia, a Hawaii-based startup focused on developing and scaling red seaweed as a livestock feed additive. Meanwhile, Starbucks invested $100 million in Valor Siren Ventures I, a private-equity firm with investment in Blue Ocean Barns, a company offering carbon credits to food companies in return for their seaweed-based feed additive provided to farmers at no additional cost.
While reducing emissions is an environmental aspiration, it does little to improve farmer profitability, and the additional cost of the supplement may not be justifiable. This was the case for Symbrosia when the team revealed an estimated extra daily cost of $1.60 per cow during an interview with 100 farmers from California and the Northeast. The team then turned their attention to consumer-facing companies and cooperatives that have the capital and the commitments to reduce livestock emissions.
Ultimately, it is possible that this is part of the answer to how emissions can be reduced in future food production. Companies will need to foot the bill for costly feed additives or incentivize farmers to achieve their emissions reductions goals. Corporation sustainability targets cannot be met without reducing emissions across the supply chain and will be one of the primary drivers of climate-focused change in the coming years. Whether it is through legislative initiatives or groundbreaking science, the agriculture industry will continue to work to reduce their carbon footprint in the coming years.