climate change food

Can seaweed farming curb the climate impact of beef?

Cattle ranching is a climate catastrophe in the waiting. As demand for beef has grown, the global herd has grown to meet it, and there are now 1.5 billion cows in the world. The methane emitted by cows as they digest makes beef the most high-emission food on our plates, and altogether the emissions from beef and dairy production are greater than those from all the world’s transport.

There are various solutions, starting with the very obvious solution of not eating beef, to very complicated answers like replicating the exact protein structures of beef synthetically. Both of those threaten the beef industry, which has some suggestions of its own.

Among the hopeful responses from farming are the use of dietary supplements that reduce ‘bovine emissions’, as we shall politely call them. Specifically, researchers have found that adding the red seaweed asparagopsis to cattle feed can reduce emissions dramatically, with some studies showing an 80% reduction in methane, some registering 90% or better.

I’ve read about this a few times in different places, but it’s worth mentioning now because it’s finally being done commercially. This summer a new venture was formed in Australia to put the idea into practice. The seaweed will come from an aquaculture partnership between the company CH4 and the Narungga Nation Aboriginal Corporation. It will be processed and fed to cattle by Pirie Meats, and work is due to begin imminently on a $90 million processing plant that will bring it all together.

After lots of talk and articles on the internet, it’s great to see a substantial project take shape around seaweed supplements. It will stimulate ocean farming in Australia, a hugely promising sector that is just waiting for its moment. It will reduce emissions from beef production, and create revenues for indigenous communities. That’s quite a lot of wins, for the humans at least. The cows would still prefer you to stop eating beef.

3 comments

  1. Hi Jeremy, I had heard there was an issue with the impact on ozone somehow connected with feeding seaweed… had you heard this?

    Henry

    1. That’s something I read up on when debating whether to report on this or not. It’s to do with bromoform, which is present in all seaweed to one degree or another. The red seaweed used here has less of it, and the process they use means its digested by the cow rather than released into the atmosphere.

      The company are aware of it and have taken it into considerationo. It shouldn’t be an issue with this particular project, though future projects using different processes may be different.

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