Feeding livestock a seaweed supplement called FutureFeed could simultaneously help to secure global food security and fight climate change by reducing powerful greenhouse gas emissions.

The challenge

A hungry, warming world

More than 800 million people are currently experiencing food insecurity, a number that will grow as further increases in the world's population put an even greater strain on the food chain. Furthermore, approximately 1.3 billion people rely on livestock such as cattle and sheep for their livelihoods. Consequently, there is a significant need for increasing productivity in livestock production to help lift people out of economic and food poverty. If livestock could be helped to grow larger faster, and at little expense, then a significant part of the problem could be alleviated.

Dr Rob Kinley feeding beef cattle in Northern Australia.

Livestock unfortunately also bring with them a gassy problem. Methane from burps and farts is a greenhouse gas 28 times more powerful than carbon dioxide. More than 20 per cent of the world's entire total of greenhouse gas emissions come from livestock production, and in Australia the contribution of methane emissions from ruminant livestock is approaching 10 per cent of total greenhouse emissions.

This double threat of a growing population and rising greenhouse gas emissions risks destabilising communities, and requires an urgent response that can be implemented rapidly and inexpensively.

Our response

A sea-based land solution

Our scientists have developed a cost-effective seaweed feed additive called FutureFeed, which uses a variety of Australian seaweed that significantly reduces their methane emissions and has potential to increase livestock productivity.

The Asparagopsis species of seaweed produces a bioactive compound called bromoform, which prevents the formation of methane by inhibiting a specific enzyme in the gut during the digestion of feed. In fact, FutureFeed has been found to reduce the production of enteric methane by more than 80 per cent.

The results

Cheaper, greener, better

The metabolic conversion of methane represents up to 15 per cent of feed energy and feed expenses, and is a loss of economic potential. Consequently, although as yet unquantified, the reduction of methane emissions has a potential economic benefit for producers and a metabolic benefit for the animal, via an improved conversion of energy otherwise lost as methane emissions.

If just 10 per cent of global ruminant producers adopted FutureFeed as an additive to feed their livestock, it would have the same impact for our climate as removing 50 million cars from the world's roads, and potential increases in livestock productivity could create enough food to feed an additional 23 million people.

For more information on FutureFeed, visit: https://research.csiro.au/futurefeed/

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