Spotlight on livestock sector methane emissions reduction strategies

By Jane Byrne

- Last updated on GMT

© GettyImages/Eileen Groome
© GettyImages/Eileen Groome

Related tags methane emissions Beef

The US and EU need to lead the way on regulating methane emissions of industrial livestock corporations, says the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP).

That organization was reacting to the gathering yesterday in Santiago, Chile of more than 25 agriculture ministers and high-level representatives from around the world for the start of a two-day meeting to promote a dialogue on how to decrease methane emissions and create low-emission food systems.

The goal of the First Ministerial Conference on Low-Emission Food Systems is to create synergies between the ministers and international organizations to promote climate change mitigation and resilience in agricultural production and to share the successful experiences of participating countries and entities.

The conference takes place within the framework of the commitment made by more than 100 countries at the 2021 UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow (COP 26) to reduce global methane emissions by 30% by 2030 – the Global Methane Pledge.

The event should give rise to scrutiny over the industrial livestock sector’s emissions and raise countries’ ambitions to tackle methane emissions from the sector, said the IATP. “It is positive to see ministers engage on the issue.”

The recent Emissions Impossible: Methane Edition​ report co-published by the IATP and Changing Markets Foundation claimed that 15 of the largest meat and dairy companies produce staggering methane emissions — roughly 12.8 million tons. All except one of these companies are headquartered in the countries that have signed the Pledge. Therefore, governments of countries where these large corporations are headquartered must urgently regulate these companies to reduce methane emissions, said the IATP.

“With just 15 meat and dairy companies responsible for more methane than some of the biggest methane emitting countries, it’s clear where the focus on action needs to be,” commented Shefali Sharma, director of IATP Europe. “As leaders of the methane pledge, the US and the EU should lead the way on regulating these corporate emissions and creating resilient food systems that contribute to ecosystem restoration.”

“Governments are often too timid when it comes to emissions reductions from agriculture, but the science is clear: Rapid cut in methane emissions is the best strategy to safeguard our climate system and the future of food production,” said Nusa Urbancic, campaigns director of Changing Markets Foundation. “Big meat and dairy companies have huge revenues, but these are currently not being invested in transformative solutions to address the climate emergency.”

Australian research

Australia is one of the signatories​ of the Global Methane Pledge. 

This week saw the University of Adelaide, which is located in southern Australia, flag a research project aimed at providing new insights into feed supplementation on methane emissions in the beef cattle production cycle.

Australian researchers were pioneering in terms of exploration work done to show the effectiveness of a type of red seaweed, Asparagopsis, in lowering methane emissions in cows and sheep. Now Dr Mariana Caetano, lecturer in animal nutrition and metabolism at the University of Adelaide, is keen to investigate the role of other feeds in combination with seaweed as methane emissions blockers in beef cattle.

She will explore whether mixing a variety of compounds, including biserrula, into cow feed that contains seaweed can reduce the amount of methane produced by livestock. 

Biserrula is a persistent pasture legume that grows in Mediterranean farming systems, while other compounds that will be used include by-products, grains and unsaturated fatty acids used in livestock feeds.

The research will also investigate the effect of a low dose seaweed supplementation given to pregnant cows and the long-term impact it has on methane emissions of calves.

In addition, the team will breath test livestock to record methane levels using a low-cost device. The idea is that such a cost-effective tool could be used by farmers for monitoring purposes. 

The Commonwealth government has provided $1,075,601 in funding for the project through the Methane Emissions Reduction in Livestock (MERiL) program.

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