June 22nd, 2024

Sustainability, stock and seaweed: changing cattle feed to combat climate change

By John Christy Johnson, Peter Anto Johnson and Austin A. Mardon on July 17, 2021.

Methane production has consistently been under fire as one of the principal contributors for climate change. Taking into consideration the steps and strategies employed by local communities to not only mitigate, but also adapt as outlined by NASA and other climate authorities, there is a growing emphasis on agriculture-based and grassroots solutions (https://www.reddeeradvocate.com/opinion/disasters-and-duck-domestication-adapting-to-climate-change/).
Methane is concerning despite having a shorter half life than carbon dioxide, because it can be up to 28 times more potent in raising the temperature of the atmosphere (https://clear.ucdavis.edu/explainers/why-methane-cattle-warms-climate-differently-co2-fossil-fuels). Cattle like cows are the leading source of greenhouse gas emissions globally with a single cow producing 220 pounds of methane per year. (https://www.ucdavis.edu/food/news/making-cattle-more-sustainable)
Many have suggested that people switch plates to a plant-based diet and/or eat less meat as a way to adapt and slow the progression of climate change at least to some extent. However, the multi-billion dollar meat industry and the complex dietary demands of consumers have made the adoption of non-meat based dining and eating much more challenging and costly – both in an economic and social sense. When we consider the bigger picture of horticulture with a bird’s eye view, there are other drawbacks that can come from switching to a purely crop-based cultivation strategy.
These drawbacks gain even more ground when we consider the geography of the Earth, where only a relatively small portion of land is suitable for producing crops and cultivation.
Regions of land are much more optimal for grazing and as a result, livestock plays a rather crucial role in feeding an eight billion person and exponentially growing global population. (https://www.ucdavis.edu/news/can-seaweed-cut-methane-emissions-dairy-farms) In light of this, focusing on the nutrition we provide cattle instead of completely eliminating meat from our diets is a much more feasible alternative option.
According to the latest findings from researchers at the University of California, perhaps adding some seaweed to the stock for cattle can reduce methane emissions up to 82 per cent (https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0247820). As such, farmers who decide to turn over a new leaf with a seaweed-supplemented diet for cows can radically reduce the ecological footprint left by our traditional farming practices. In doing so, we can support the sustainability of farmers in the cultivation of beef and dairy products for the everyday consumer.
The seaweed works by inhibiting an enzyme in the four-compartment stomachs of the cow’s digestive system that is responsible for methane production. A newer study conducted by the same group at the University of California also examined and demonstrated that methane production in the breath of the cows that were fed the seaweed-diet from an early age emitted much less methane than those that were fed the standard cattle feed. (https://www.ucdavis.edu/news/feeding-cattle-seaweed-reduces-their-greenhouse-gas-emissions-82-percent) This further supports the idea that continuing this diet can keep these enzymes of the cow’s gut engaged and lead to less methane production overall.
While this is a promising idea and digestible in theory, there remain questions about large-scale implementation of the seaweed-diet and logistical issues that farmers and horticulturalists will have to face.
Though climate change is a multifaceted issue and one that cannot be reduced by these independent initiatives alone; other sources of greenhouse gases and pollution such as the nitrous oxide in fertilizers also warrant attention when tackling climate change.
This places an intense pressure on farmers and can be a tough idea for them and the public who depend on produce and agriculture to chew.
John Christy Johnson is research program officer at the Antarctic Institute of Canada (AIC) and an MD/MSc biomedical engineering candidate at the University of Alberta.
Peter Anto Johnson is a research program officer at the AIC and recipient of the University of Alberta Sustainability Council’s Sustainability Leaders Award.
Austin A. Mardon is an assistant adjunct professor at the University of Alberta, an Order of Canada member, Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, and director of the AIC.

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how do we consistently keep coming to the conclusion that feeding cows foods that are not natural to their diets is the way to go? stuff ’em with corn; stuff ’em with…hard to believe… other cows (what a splendid idea was that); and now, seaweed. and for the next brainy diet, let us consider hot dogs, chips, and massive big gulps of flavoured refined sugars.

Seth Anthony

You forgot the massive amounts of growth hormones and antibiotics. Add it all up and it leads to an immune compromised, diseased ridden animal. All of it makes the animal much more susceptible to transmutable diseases, and not just between the species, but to humans as well.

I’ve been drastically reducing my meat and dairy consumption for many reasons. If chosen correctly, the alternatives can be delicious and comparable in cost to decent quality meat and cheese (sometimes cheaper). One example is the President’s Choice cheese slice alternative at Superstore. They are delicious and cost about the same as cheese made from bovine mammary gland secretions. Another good example is Silk Almond, Rice, and Cashew milk. Sooo good.

Last edited 2 years ago by Seth Anthony

right on, seth. for a good dozen years i was pretty much all organic products, including free range and grass fed meats and eggs and cheeses (no pork). it cost us a fair bit more, but we cut our portions somewhat to help compensate. i hate industrial animal farming practices, as well as the mass slaughter…it is even a sicker industry in the usa, which is hard to fathom how bad it gets. not the traditional rancher’s fault, but the feedlots and the truly monopolised slaughter houses are pathetic. since retirement we have had to let go a little on our principles, but we avoid usa meats and we continue to reduce animal consumption. thank you for the tips on options and tried and proved brands. i appreciate your compassion.

Seth Anthony

I’ve got a lot more tried and true brands that include meat substitutes as well. For example a burger substitute that is delicious and even cheaper than a good quality meat burger is “Great Value Ultimate Meatless Burger”. It’s sold at Walmart (you may not like that lol), and works out to a mere $1 a burger. That’s 1/3 to 1/2 of the price of a good meat burger. BBQ or fry them so they’re a bit crispy on each side, use the cheese alternative I mentioned, and add whatever toppings you want.

Also, the torture animals are put through at these factory farms is just one of the reasons why I’m moving toward veganism.

Last edited 2 years ago by Seth Anthony
Dennis Bremner

We should also consider that for as long as a cow lives, they will contribute methane. So is this a logical argument to approve extinction of a single species because it doesn’t fit the planet anymore?
Whom is next?


i think extinction would be an exaggeration. less abundant and less used as a source of food and materials would make sense. they are cute, calm, predictable, and would make fine pets. i wonder, however, if anyone has measured the methane collectively released by 8 billion humans? especially the most overstuffed ones.

Seth Anthony

The methane thing isn’t one of the reasons why I’m becoming a vegan. However, why are you getting the notion that if we don’t continue eating a current species it will become extinct? But even if they did become extinct, that’s not necessarily a bad thing given the reason they would be extinct. I’m sure that if they could, they would have chosen not to be born at all, as opposed to being born only to be slaughtered and eaten.

Last edited 2 years ago by Seth Anthony

thanks again, seth. i will look at the great value brand ingredients and see if can give ’em a try. the price is more than fair.