Symbrosia and Cattlemen’s Heritage team up against livestock methane

By Jane Byrne

- Last updated on GMT

© GettyImages/jjMiller11
© GettyImages/jjMiller11

Related tags seaweed methane emissions Beef Symbrosia

Symbrosia, a Hawaiian cleantech startup utilizing seaweed to decrease methane emissions from livestock, has partnered with Iowa based Cattlemen’s Heritage Beef Company (CHBC) on a new initiative.

Together with their collaborators, Legacy Beef Co-op and Ten Corp Construction, the partners aim to introduce Symbrosia's SeaGraze oil into the US Midwest beef market.

Symbrosia has a freeze-dried product and an oil ingredient under its SeaGraze brand; both are derived from the red seaweed, Asparagopsis taxiformis. 

"We are transitioning to the oil formulation for controlled feed settings to better homogenize the product in the feed," Alexia Akbay, CEO of Symbrosia, told FeedNavigator. 

CHBC is a producer-owned meat packing co-op in the US catering to small and medium-sized family farms. Legacy Beef is a producer cooperative that will provide high-quality beef to a to-be-built CHBC facility in Mills County, Iowa. TenCorp is a cattle barn builder, in the Upper Midwest, with access to large volumes of cattle.

When completed, the CHBC processing site will be a 132-acre operation that is designed to be fully sustainable and traceable while using Midwest beef. The expected processing capacity is 2,000 head per day.

Legacy Beef will be a 20% owner of the new CHBC facility, which, according to Chad Tentinger, presdient of Legacy Beef and TenCorp, will be industry disruptive and will benefit the family producer by providing them with an alternative to the Big 4 - Tyson, JBS, Cargill and Marfrig - who own over 80% of the market. 

Feedlot trial

The SeaGraze oil ingredient will undergo assessment in commercial feedlots and Ten Corp deep pit cattle barns before integration into CHBC's supply chain. The trial will commence in July and aims to prove the effectiveness of the seaweed oil extract for reducing livestock methane emissions. It involves a group of 200 cattle; the partners will assess methane reduction, final beef scoring metrics, and profitability. 

All research on SeaGraze ingredients is validated using the GreenFeed technology to ensure direct measurement of methane reductions, said Akbay.

Upon successful completion of the trial period and meeting predetermined performance criteria, Symbrosia and CHBC plan to formalize an off-take agreement for 350,000 head of cattle annually by 2029.

“Following demonstration and federal regulatory approval, we will strategically execute an expansion plan with a highlight on logistics, scaled data collection, and marketing strategies,” Akbay explained.

The Asparagopsis species has been proven to reduce methane emissions​ in ruminant species by interfering with the methanogenesis process with over 25 peer-reviewed studies spanning three continents evaluating its methane-reducing potential, said the Symbrosia lead.

During the enteric fermentation part of the cow’s digestive process, SeaGraze inhibits the formation of methane without impacting the overall digestion that helps the cow gain weight and produce milk, she explained. 

“Halogenated compounds found in SeaGraze bond with the carbon molecules typically used to synthesize methane (CH4), starving the methanogenic bacteria of the precursors needed to produce methane.”

Regulatory pathway

The SeaGraze products not yet approved in the US for use in feed. Asked when the company expects the regulatory green light in this respect, the CEO remarked: "We are awaiting for Congress to pass The Innovative Feed Enhancement and Economic Development Act of 2023 (Innovative FEED Act). It was introduced in the US House of Representatives and aims to improve the regulatory environment for new animal feed ingredients. It would establish a regulatory pathway for a new category of animal food substances that solely act within the animals’ gut microbiome. Otherwise, we are working closely with the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to review our safety information ahead of this regulatory pathway opening."

The collaboration between Symbrosia and CHBC was facilitated by Jon Kallen, the executive director of the Algae Biomass Organization (ABO), who connected the two organizations. Both entities are members of the ABO.

Climate change at scale

Symbrosia, which is also working with Danone North America and Organic Valley in the dairy sector and Parker Ranch, the sixth-largest cow-calf operation in the US, hopes to scale SeaGraze production rapidly. It is looking to partner with researchers, ranchers, distributors, and brands to build supply chains that reward producers for producing low-methane animal products, added Akbay.

A study led by Cornell University's College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (Cornell CALS), supported by Danone, and designed by associate professor Joe McFadden, also aims to prove the effectiveness of the startup’s seaweed oil extract in terms of reducing livestock methane emissions.

Dr Mallory Honan, Symbrosia's product and animal science lead, outlined earlier this year how the Cornell research is more in-depth than any previous, accounting for animal and human food safety, energetics, manure composition, and gas emissions. “Additionally, it will observe unique milk characteristics beyond lactose, protein, and fat, assessing changes in the complete milk fatty acid profile.”

Chris Adamo, vice president of public affairs and regenerative agriculture policy at Danone North America, commented on the work: "We know climate change at scale cannot be done in isolation and we need efforts and studies like this to unlock new ways to make progress."

The use of Asparagopsis-based seaweed oil extract as a methane mitigator for livestock requires a holistic scientific approach to ensure sustained efficacy and safety, according to McFadden. "Our team of researchers and the recent acquisition of climate-controlled respiration chambers provide us the unique opportunity to answer the critical questions surrounding this technology."  

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