Image Source: https://www.abc.net.au/
A company commercialising a CSIRO-developed, seaweed feed product, which slashes the amount of greenhouse gases cattle burp and fart into the atmosphere, has won a $1 million international prize for its work reshaping the food system.
CSIRO-affiliated company Future Feed said it would use its Food Planet Prize winnings to create an international commercial fund to help First Nations communities generate income from cultivating and selling the seaweed.
According to the science agency, methane emissions from livestock make up around 15 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions, and one cow produces on average as much gas emission as one car.
The CSIRO says on its website that methane stays in the atmosphere for about nine years, a far shorter period than carbon dioxide.
However, its global warming potential is “86 times higher than carbon dioxide when averaged over 20 years and 28 times higher over 100 years”.
Like taking ‘100 million cars off the road’
Future Feed director and CSIRO scientist Michael Battaglia said that when added to cattle feed, the product, which contains Australian ‘super seaweed’ Asparagopsis, virtually eliminated methane from the animals’ bodily emissions.
“We know that just a handful [of the product] per animal per day, or 0.2 per cent of their diet can virtually eliminate 99.9 per cent of methane,” Dr Battaglia said.
He said the potential for the product to reduce the world’s greenhouse gas footprint, if commercialised, was massive.
“That’s equivalent to taking 100 million cars off the road.
“But in the long run, if we can start to think about ways to deliver this into grass-fed sectors, the impact is 10 to 100 times more than that.”
Benefits not just environmental
Dr Battaglia said the product was well on the way to being sold on the Australian market.
“We’re doing the tests, figuring out the quality assurance processes,” he said.
He said the company was already working with a number of industry growers, including First Nations groups in South Australia, to grow the seaweed at scale.
“We have agreements between the Indigenous Land and Sea Corporation involving the Narungga Nation Aboriginal peoples, and a seaweed-growing company CH4,” Dr Battaglia said.
“The intent [is] to develop commercial-scale Asparagopsis cultivation and processing to generate maximum benefit for the Narungga people.”
Dr Battaglia said with the prize’s extra funding, they would expand the initiative globally.
In awarding the prize from a pool of more than 600 entries, the Food Planet Prize judges noted the product’s positive social impacts.
“The technology could also have indirect benefits, including filtering detrimental nutrients in ocean water and creating alternative incomes in developing countries where fisheries are in decline,” Dr Battaglia said.
Discovery an accident
For Future Feed’s chief scientist Rob Kinley, the project has been a passion for more than a decade.
Dr Kinley first began looking into how seaweed affected cows’ digestive systems while in Nova Scotia, Canada, after a local farmer noticed their cows grew better near the coast.
Dr Kinley then began a quest to find out why, which led him to Australia and, eventually, the Asparagopsis species.
Dr Battaglia said a happy by-product of producing less methane was that the energy then stayed in the animal.
“Instead of going into producing methane, other microbes come along and then produce the good things, the fatty acids and things, that the animal goes on to produce milk or meat with,” he said.
Push to lower agricultural emissions
As nations across the world prepare for next year’s COP 26 Glasgow Climate Change Conference, pressure to lower agricultural emissions across the globe is mounting.
A recent Technical University of Munich study found “social and environmental costs” of emissions were “currently not considered in the cost structure of farmers or the subsequent food chain”.
Looking at German agriculture, it found “other market participants, future generations, and the natural environment” were bearing the cost of meat prices, which did not reflect their cost.
Last year Meat and Livestock Australia said it believed a zero carbon footprint was possible nationally by 2030, and the sector had already significantly slashed emissions.
It said from 2005 to 2016, the beef industry had reduced its greenhouse gas emissions by nearly 60 per cent.