The product, which contains an Australian ‘super seaweed’, virtually eliminates methane from cattle emissions when added to their feed. According to Michael Battaglia, the director of Future Feed, the company responsible for commercialising the CSIRO-developed supplement, this could be equivalent to taking 100 million cars off the road when fully commercialised.
"We know that just a handful [of the product] per animal per day, or 0.2 per cent of their diet can virtually eliminate 99.9 per cent of methane," Dr Battaglia told ABC News.
"We think we can tackle the dairy and the feedlot part of that pretty simply, which may be 5 megatons in Australia and globally 500 megatons of emissions."
Future Feed will now use the winnings from the annual Food Planet Prize to create an international commercial fund specifically aimed at helping First Nations communities derive income from cultivating and selling the seaweed.
The idea is simple. A certain type of seaweed, specifically two types of red seaweed called Asparagopsis taxiformis and Asparagopsis armata, replaces some parts of traditional feedstock for cattle. After being chewed up and swallowed, the seaweed works by inhibiting gas-producing enzymes in the gut. In 2016 one study found including 2% red seaweed in cow’s feed could cut methane emissions by over 90%.
Cow, sheep and other livestock emissions are an enormous source of greenhouse gas emissions, primarily from their belches though also from flatulence and dung to a lesser degree. It’s estimated that livestock emit 14.5% of all greenhouse gases globally, whilst in Australia the emissions from our cattle and sheep equates to around 55 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent annually.
The problem is that our gassy livestock emit methane, which has a much larger short-term climate impact than most other greenhouse gases. Methane traps solar heat around 28 times more effectively than carbon dioxide, therefore heating our atmosphere at a much faster rate.
There are currently around 1.5 billion cows on the planet, and with beef consumption expected to increase by 21% in developing countries from 2018 to 2027 due to growing wealth and availability of meat products, taking immediate measures to reduce the environmental impact of that meat consumption is critical.
Even better, rather than waiting on such solutions to come to light we can always move towards a more plant-based diet to curb those emissions!