Increasing Livestock Sustainability with Methane-mitigating Feed Additives

Demand for animal protein in developed countries is stable and increasing strongly in emerging countries. The combination of their nutrient density, the desire of people to improve their diets and a growing world population will continue to drive future growth. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) projects that global demand for milk and meat will rise by 58% and 74% between 2010 and 2050.

Demand at that scale cannot be met solely through expansion; livestock must also be raised more efficiently and sustainably, and animal health solutions offer a path to achieve this goal. Reducing animal disease and optimising yield, through better genetics and preventative care means fewer animals are needed to meet the global demand for protein.

An emerging class of animal feed supplements that inhibit methane production in ruminants offers a promising new way to further reduce the climate footprint of livestock production. This article analyses political, regulatory, practical and market considerations related to the introduction and use of methane-reducing feed additives while offering recommendations to improve pathways to market.

The Emissions Challenge

The main GHG emissions (carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O) are emitted from both natural and man-made sources (see Chart 1). Scientifically, the sources of emissions are irrelevant because the warming effect is the same, yet from a societal acceptance perspective there are differences. Society tends not to question naturally occurring biological processes created through millions of years of evolution – including for example ruminant enteric fermentation. But society does increasingly question the effect of many man-made activities, especially if they are wasteful and the emissions are significant.

To illustrate, unintentional methane leaks from energy production – often from poorly maintained pipelines –release about as much methane (3.11 billion tonnes CO2 equivalent annually) as all of agriculture (3.45 billion tonnes CO2 equivalent), and certainly more than ruminant enteric fermentation.

Methane is different than CO2 – it is 28 times more potent than CO2, but unlike CO2, which has a life span of centuries, methane breaks down after 10 or so years. Cutting methane emissions therefore almost immediately reduces its concentrations in the atmosphere and slows warming. It is no surprise that over 150 countries support the Global Methane Pledge to lower methane overall emissions by 30% by 2030, and this target could be sharpened further.

40% of methane is emitted from natural biological sources like decomposition, ocean release, etc. and 60% is from man-made sources like landfills, oil and natural gas systems, mining, combustion, wastewater treatment, and industrial processes, according to the International Energy Agency. Beef and dairy cows eat plants that contain carbon, which

their stomachs convert into methane, 90% of which is belched out and 10% of which is flatulence. Considering methane emissions from agriculture, enteric fermentation by ruminants represents about 31% as shown in Chart 2.

Animal Health and Animal Feed Solutions

The animal health sector can play a contributing role in both GHG mitigation and adaption strategies. Mitigation strategies are those that aim to reduce existing GHGs from the environment or reduce the rate of new GHG emissions. Feed additives are part of both the mitigation and adaptation stories. Adaptation strategies aim to reduce the effects of climate change. For the animal health sector, this can include helping animals manage heat stress, increasing capacity to address emerging diseases, and responding to diseases in new geographies.

Further improving animal health is the most efficient way to ensure that as few as possible greenhouse gasses are emitted. Healthier animals are more productive, and less prone to disease, weight loss, or death, leading to more animal protein being produced using fewer resources. In addition, existing good feed practices and products that improve digestibility, reduce pathogens, or increase weight, also contribute significantly to lower emissions. The feed sector is constantly developing new fats, oils, carbohydrates, minerals, etc. with positive effects on digestion.