Wednesday, 23 February 2022 13:13

From ‘burp’ to fork: EU approves first methane-busting feed additive for cattle

An innovative feed additive that reduces the emission of methane from livestock farming has been granted formal marketing approval by EU countries.

On Wednesday (23 February), Bovaer, a feed additive developed by the Dutch company DSM, was approved by the standing committee on Plant, Animals, Food and Feed (scoPAFF), which brings together representatives of EU27 member states and is chaired by a European Commission representative.

This feed additive aims at suppressing the enzyme that triggers methane production in a cow’s rumen. According to the DSM, the additive reduces enteric methane emissions by approximately 30% for dairy cows and as much as 90% for beef cows.

Methane is a greenhouse gas (GHG) that, despite being short-lived, has more heat-trapping power than carbon dioxide, trapping 84 times more heat over 20 years.

Enteric fermentation – gassy emissions from ruminant animals such as dairy and beef cattle – is considered the most significant source of methane in terms of human-related activities.

“Cutting farming-related methane emissions is key in our fight against climate change and today’s approval is a very telling example of what we can achieve through new agricultural innovations,” said the Commissioner for health and food safety, Stella Kyriakides, commenting on the announcement.

According to the Commissioner, innovation is key for a successful shift towards a more sustainable food system and with this approval, the EU continues to lead the way in ensuring food safety while adapting to new technologies that can make food production more sustainable

The Commission said in a note that this innovative product will contribute to the greening of the EU’s agriculture, and to the objectives of the EU’s flagship food policy, the Farm to Fork strategy.

Now the EU executive is expected to formally adopt the decision in the coming months, and then the feed additive will be the first of its kind available on the EU market.

The product has already received the regulatory go-ahead for marketing from the Brazilian and Chinese authorities.

A positive scientific assessment on Bovaer was already released last November by a specific panel of the EU’s food safety agency EFSA, providing scientific advice on the efficacy of additives and products or substances used in animal feed.

The scientific assessment, requested by the Commission, concluded that the additive is efficacious in reducing methane emissions by dairy cows under the proposed conditions of use. This conclusion was extended to all other ruminants used for milk production and reproduction.

According to EFSA scientists, Bovaer is also safe for dairy cows at the maximum recommended level, adding that using the additive under the proposed conditions is of no concern for consumer safety and the environment.

The first global commitment to cut methane emissions by at least 30% below 2020 levels by 2030 was launched during the very first days of the UN climate conference COP26 in Glasgow last year.

The initiative was led by the US and the EU, which gathered 103 other countries that combined account for 46% of global methane emissions and represent 70% of the world economy. They included several cattle-rich countries like Brazil, Canada, Argentina, and New Zealand.

However, some countries with high methane emissions opted to remain out of the commitment, including China, India, Australia, and Russia.

The global pledge also focuses on technical measures such as animal feed supplements which, according to the UN, can cut emissions in the sector by 20% a year until 2030.

Agricultural implications of the COP26 methane pledge

The agriculture sector, one of the world’s most significant contributors of methane, will be directly impacted by the first global commitment to cut methane emissions by at least 30% below 2020 levels by 2030.