Low methane beef and pork production

Roughly 6 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions are in the form of methane (CH4) produced by the digestive systems of animals raised for meat and milk production, particularly cattle. Methane is an extremely powerful greenhouse gas, which traps 84x as much heat as carbon dioxide, and which impacts global temperatures rapidly.

Methane is produced not by cows themselves but by microbes in their digestive tracts called methanogens, as the figure below shows.

Methane production from cow digestion. Source: FAO

To address these climate emissions from cattle while meeting the world’s ever-growing demand for dairy and beef, innovators are looking at multiple approaches:

      1. Feed additives. In the last decades, researchers have discovered that particular strains of seaweed, when fed to cattle, reduce the amount of methane they produce. Researchers have isolated the compounds responsible and are working to scale them.
      2. Probiotics and gut microbiome changes. Researchers in Europe have found that inoculating young calves with a different microbiome can substantially reduce methane production.

Interestingly, both approaches that reduce methane from cow digestion show signs of increasing milk and beef production, as the energy that would be lost in the form of methane is preserved in the cow’s metabolism.

In the 2020s, advances in these technologies will allow farmers to produce more meat and dairy for the world, with lower emissions.