A common image that comes to mind when speaking of climate change and global warming is that of fossil fuels & other non-renewable forms of energy and the alarming rate at which we are exploiting these limited resources. A not so intuitive image of climate change, however, is that of cattle. Cattle primarily raised for beef and dairy products are prolific methane producers and in the process account for one of the biggest causes of climate change. Methane (CH4) is a greenhouse gas that is 25 times more powerful than Carbon Dioxide (CO2). While it may seem surprising, the science behind it is incredibly simple. A cow’s rumen or “fore-stomach” contains microbes that ferment what the cow eats, creating methane, which it then belches into the air. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), 37 percent of human induced methane comes from livestock worldwide. In terms of the resources, largely feed and land, required to raise these cattle for dairy and beef production, the numbers look scarier. It takes 7 to 13 pounds of feed to produce a pound of beef. Approximately, 70% of the land in the United States used for food production is used for beef and dairy products. With these massive numbers in play simultaneously, an environmentally viable and mutually beneficial solution may seem unlikely at first.
While a simplistic solution to this challenge may seem to be to reduce production and thus consumption of beef and dairy products, it is neither the most realistic nor the most feasible solution. Additionally, considering the strong lobby the industry represents worldwide and specially in the United States, Europe and Brazil, it does not even present a beneficial solution to the billion-dollar food industry. Easily amongst the most popular and the most consumed products in the world, this issue presents a herculean task for environmentalists and conservationists.
However, DSM, a global science based company active in health, nutrition and materials, based out of Netherlands may seem to have a few solutions up its sleeves. Methanogens are the microbes that ferment the indigestible feed and are primarily responsible for the creation of Methane that a cow belches. DSM’s potential solution to the problem is to create Methanogen-specific drugs containing compounds that target and block methanogen enzymes that are necessary for the methanogens survival and thus for methane creation. This potential solution is first being lab tested before they are actually tested on livestock. This process is estimated to help reduce methane emissions by up to 30%.
Another seemingly interesting opportunity for DSM is to go back to basics and test for potential vaccinations. A solution currently being tested in New Zealand where livestock is put out to pasture and not intensively farmed as it is in Europe, Brazil or the United States, vaccinations may prove to provide a quicker solution to the methane belching problem. Vaccinations will require DSM to synthesize the proteins of the methanogens in order to produce antibodies in the livestock’s blood and saliva.
Considering the ever growing population globally and within the United States, Brazil and Europe that are currently the largest consumers and exporters of beef and dairy products and are growing exponentially year on year, the above two solutions could potentially provide the largest environmentally sustainable business opportunities for DSM. One that is mutually beneficial for the food production industry, the governments of various nations especially those that have ratified the Paris Agreement on Climate change, the environmentalists and lastly the growing consumers since it provides a reasonably effective chance at reducing emissions of greenhouse gases, while causing no apparent detriment to the animal.