Greening cattle diets, US company looks to the ocean

By Jane Byrne

- Last updated on GMT

© GettyImages/smovic
© GettyImages/smovic

Related tags methane emissions UC Davis Beef seaweed

US company, Blue Ocean Barns, says it has developed a feed supplement from the red seaweed, Asparagopsis taxiformis, which, when minimally processed and fed in small amounts to cattle, significantly reduces their methane emissions.

The supplement makes up less than 0.3% of the cattle’s feed; the company said it works by preventing hydrogens from binding to carbon atoms during digestion and creating methane in cattle burps. 

A study by researchers at University of California, Davis, published in July this year​, claimed that the persistent reduction of methane emissions in beef steers by such A. taxiformis​ supplementation would suggest this is a viable feed additive to decrease the carbon footprint of ruminant livestock and potentially increase production efficiency. 

FeedNavigator (FEN) had a Q&A with Joan Salwen, CEO and co-founder of Blue Ocean Barns, to gauge the potential for the cattle feed supplement.   

FEN: Where is the company at in terms of approvals and commercial scale-up of the additive? 

JS: ​A commercial pilot using the red seaweed supplement was approved by the USDA National Organic Program this year. Blue Ocean Barns is in conversation with other regulators, both at the state and federal levels. As for commercial scale-up, we already have begun cultivating in Hawaii, and expanded operations to Southern California this month. We are on track for commercial operations to begin late next year.

FEN:When and where will the additive be launched, and is it branded yet? 

JS:​ We are planning to commercially launch with farmers in California. That said, Blue Ocean Barns has been in discussions with several global brands and their supply chains may encourage us to launch in other states or countries. We do not yet have a brand name for our supplement. 

FEN: How is the additive manufactured? 

JS:​ Our cultivation is on land in controlled photobioreactors, but we also will source material from ocean farms that meet our standards for quality and environmental stewardship. We have multiple patents pending that cover our proprietary manufacturing method.

FEN: What are the challenges around the supplement’s manufacture and how much will potentially be available in terms of volumes when production goes live?

JS:​ Producing this type of red seaweed at scale and at high potency is not an easy task. The seaweed grows fast and plentifully but can be fragile and needs to be optimized for use in cattle. I'm happy to say that our scientists and growing team have made a string of significant breakthroughs and our seed stock is expanding exponentially. By the end of 2021, we expect our proprietary supplement to be available at commercial scale.  

FEN: What data show the additive is safe in terms of control of the active ingredient bromoform in the seaweed from which it is derived?  

JS:​ Like kelp and nearly all seaweeds approved for use in food and feed, A. taxiformis​ produces bromoform. Study after study has shown the same thing: No bromoform residue nor abnormalities of any kind were detected in the animals’ meat, organs, fat, or feces. Additionally, bromoform levels in the tested milk were exactly the same as those found in the cows' drinking water on the farm - with no increase from the seaweed supplement.

FEN: Can you illustrate the economic viability of the additive as well?

JS:​ Our product has been shown in tests at UC Davis to reduce feed intake by 14% without any loss of average daily gain (ADG). A significant cost reduction in feed would be a strong win for farmers, since feed is their highest cost. We aren't yet ready to announce our commercial sales and distribution strategy, but the Blue Ocean Barns supplement will be a clear net-positive for farmers. 

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