How low-burping cows could put a dent on emissions

What if cutting greenhouse gas emissions could begin here, in the feed for cattle?

Farmer John Verwey, owner of Johann Dairy in Fresno, two years ago began experimenting with Swiss-made feed additives. He was looking to improve his milk output, while decreasing methane emissions.

He thinks the additives, if proven, could be the future of the industry

"The whole goal in feeding products like that is to become net zero, to reduce methane into the environment and to clean up wherever we can and to be a sustainable as we can."

Gassy cows are a global issue.

Livestock emit 14.5% of the world's greenhouse gases. Nearly two-thirds of those emissions come from cattle, including through burps, flatulence and manure; but predominantly from cattle belches, a biproduct of the digestive process in the cow's first stomach known as the 'rumen'.

In an effort to cut down on the belching, Verwey began feeding his cattle Agolin, made of coriander, clove and carrot extracts, and replaced costlier additives that promoted weight gain.

Major food companies are stepping into the space as well, including Nestle, which has partnered with Agolin.

In July, Restaurant Brands International started serving burgers it claimed were made from less-gassy cattle at several U.S. Burger King restaurants. Their efforts made headlines when the company began selling lower-methane Whoppers, though they concede further research is needed.

Their plans hinge on adoption of gas-inhibiting cattle feed additives, a tiny market that developers say is poised for multi-billion-dollar sales.

Frank Mitloehner is a professor of animal science at the University of California Davis.

"And when a major player like Burger King or McDonald's or so, when they push the supply chain, things actually happen. I mean, just think about it. Some of these companies are so large that they feed one percent of the world's human population every day. When a company like that makes a move, on let's say, mitigation of greenhouse gases, then you really move the needle. Then you really move the needle. And we need to move the needle."

The shift comes as meat and dairy industries face competition from substitutes like Impossible Burger and Beyond Meat, as shoppers look for healthier options that do less damage to the environment.

Meanwhile, Verwey is still experimenting.

While he tests the Agolin feed, he's also working on 'greening' other aspects of his business, including manure.

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