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Meat and Dairy Industry Working Hard to Stop Us from Fighting Climate Change

We don’t produce much oil here in South Dakota—the total crude pumped out of Harding, Fall River, and Custer counties in 2020 was less than the amount of oil the Dakota Access and Keystone pipelines carry across East River in a single day. But our state government is beholden to and giving out bribes for another big industry that likes to deny climate science. Big Meat and Big Dairy are working hard to obscure science and block policy that would check their industry’s wanton pollution and unhealthy alteration of the only livable climate available to homo sapiens:

According to a new study out of NYU, these companies have spent millions of dollars lobbying against climate policies and funding dubious research that tries to blur the links between animal agriculture and our climate emergency. The biggest link is that about 14 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions come from meat and dairy.

“US beef and dairy companies appear to act collectively in ways similar to the fossil fuel industry, which built an extensive climate change countermovement,” write the authors of the study, published in the journal Climatic Change.

…Six of the big US groups — the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, the National Pork Producers Council, the North American Meat Institute, the National Chicken Council, the International Dairy Foods Association, and the American Farm Bureau Federation — have together spent about $200 million in lobbying since 2000. And they’ve been lobbying annually against climate policies like cap-and-trade, the Clean Air Act, and regulations that would require farms to report emissions.

Individual meat companies likewise spend millions on lobbying. Tyson, for example, has spent $25 million since 2000. Now, that may not sound like much if we compare it to what individual companies in the fossil fuel industry spend — Exxon alone spent over $240 million during the same period. But the study notes that we have to look at these amounts in proportion to each company’s bottom line. Taken as a share of total revenue over the past two decades, Tyson has spent 33 percent more on lobbying than Exxon has [Sigal Samuel, “It’s Not Just Big Oil. Big Meat Also Spends Millions to Crush Good Climate Policy,” Vox, 2021.04.13].

Big Meat and Big Milk will continue to press Senator John Thune to resist any effort to rein in agricultural emissions. But reducing methane emissions from livestock (which generate 14.5% of all human-induced climate-changing emissions) may not require that we all give up burgers and milkshakes. Scientists at the University of California–Davis sprinkled some seaweed into cattle feed and found their moo-moos’ methane emissions dropped 82%:

“We now have sound evidence that seaweed in cattle diet is effective at reducing greenhouse gases and that the efficacy does not diminish over time,” said Ermias Kebreab, professor and Sesnon Endowed Chair of the Department of Animal Science and director of the World Food Center. Kebreab conducted the study along with his Ph.D. graduate student Breanna Roque.

“This could help farmers sustainably produce the beef and dairy products we need to feed the world,” Roque added.

Over the course of five months last summer, Kebreab and Roque added scant amounts of seaweed to the diet of 21 beef cattle and tracked their weight gain and methane emissions. Cattle that consumed doses of about 80 grams (3 ounces) of seaweed gained as much weight as their herd mates while burping out 82 percent less methane into the atmosphere. Kebreab and Roque are building on their earlier work with dairy cattle, which was the world’s first experiment reported that used seaweed in cattle [University of California–Davis, “Feeding Cattle Seaweed Reduces Their Greenhouse Gas Emissions 82 Percent,” AAAS: Eurekalert, 2021.03.17].

The researchers ran test tastes on the beef and milk from their test cattle (yes, animals were killed in the making of this science), and no one went, “Ew, green!”…or actually, red: asparagopsis taxiformis is red tropical seaweed. The problem is there’s not enough asparagopsis taxiformis growing the oceans for us to harvest and feed to 1.47 billion cattle. We’ll need farmers to get into growing big plots of seaweed to produce enough to supplement cattle feed (which maybe won’t be a hard pivot if climate change raises the sea level and floods some of our pasture land); we’ll also need the corporate meat and milk barons to stop lying about science and buying off politicians to prevent us from enacting reasonable regulations to make them pay for the externalities of their polluting industry.

12 Comments

  1. Nix 2021-04-14

    I would like to suggest that the Dope Queen of Delusion add a side of seaweed salad to her daily meals.
    I don’t know if it would work on the old gasbag, but it’s worth a try.

  2. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2021-04-14

    Nix, i’m curious: can any of my readers find scientific research on the effects of seaweed on human greenhouse gas emissions?

    Whether we feed it just a cattle or expand the seaweed market to human consumption, red sea weed could be the next great cash crop. Save your planet, save your bottom line: grow seaweed!

  3. jake 2021-04-14

    At times I could sure use some of that ‘weed’ !!!!!!!!!

  4. DaveFN 2021-04-14

    Cory–

    Various seaweed species will decrease methanogenesis in cattle to varying extents owing to varying concentrations of bromoform, CHBr3, found in seaweed. Bromoform inhibits the enzyme methyltransferase which is responsible for one of the terminal metabolic steps involved in methanogenesis. It is well-known that this occurs by bromoform reacting with the cofactor for methyltransferase, viz., vitamin B12.

    So—in principle one need not use seaweed at all but merely add bromoform to the diet of ruminants. Of course, this begs all kinds of questions. We don’t know the long term effect of bromoform on cattle, bromoform is classified by the EPA as potential carcinogen and limits on the allowable amounts in water exist, there may be safer chemical alternatives to bromoform for methanogenesis inhibition, changes in cattle feeding regimens may have just as salutary effect, people have proposed changing the flora in the rumen, etc. So no reason to grow more Asparagopsis, not that the ‘enterprising’ marketeers of the stuff will tell us that, of course.

    As far as the greenhouse effect, Itoh demonstrated back in 1994 that bromoform’s ability to deplete ozone is some 10-20 X that of chlorodifluoromethane (Freon 22, CHClF2), the latter which continues to be used (refrigerant and propellant) as a *somewhat* more environmentally friendly alternative (at least in some parts of the world) for the more ozone-depleting Freons 11 and 12. Under the Montreal Protocol, however, even Freon 22 is itself being phased out in the United States.

    The message is that supposedly “natural” substances like seaweed may look promising but have their scope and limitations like anything else. The scientific literature is good at proposing what appear to be promising solutions, when, in fact, the problem is merely being displaced.

    https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2016-09/documents/bromoform.pdf
    https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/idlh/75252.html
    Itoh, N., and Shinya, M. (1994) Seasonal evolution of bromomethanes from coralline algae (Corallinaceae) and its effect on atmospheric ozone. Marine Chemistry 45, 95–103.

  5. Seaweed reduces cow methane emissions 80%

    Place was doing research on it, got their seaweed from Israel.

    It can be a cash crop, yes!

  6. I think we could continue to raise cattle and feed it also to people.
    It is Japanese cuisine.

    Why not a seaweed cook off-foodie festival in Rapid City-No Mask Falls- or Abe Lincoln Er Deen each year?
    Thousands of mask wearing tourists!

    Time to upgrade our state!

  7. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2021-04-15

    Fascinating! Thanks for providing that information, DaveFN. I wonder: if we did sprinkle bromoform in cattle feed, would the cattle then burp that bormoform instead of methane and deplete the ozone layer, or would the bromoform chemically react with the methane or other components in the rumen and come out as some other by-product?

  8. John 2021-04-15

    The actions of the meat, dairy, congressional industrial complex remind me of the lies and antisocial behavior of the tobacco companies touting faux science that cigarettes didn’t cause lung cancer and the sugar companies blaming obesity and diabetes on fat.
    The anti-science and lies are tiresome and dangerous.

  9. DaveFN 2021-04-15

    Cory–

    According to Machado, et al, the concentration of bromoform in Asparagopsis is 1723.2 μg g−1 (dry weight), ie., about a tenth of a percent, (Appl Phycol (2016) 28:3117–3126) and under the scant seaweed feed amounts cited in your article one supposes very little bromoform would end up ‘burped”—it takes very little of the substance to inhibit methanogenesis.

    Bromoform does not react with methane to suppress formation of the latter (as you indicated), but rather reacts with vitamin B12 (actually, cobamide, to be technical) which latter is necessary for methane formation in the rumen (DiMarco AA, Bobik TA, Wolfe RS (1990) Unusual coenzymes of methanogenesis. Annu Rev Biochem 59:355–394).

    During this process, bromoform undergoes reductive debromination to dibromomethane (a bromine atom is replaced by a hydrogen atom). Both bromoform (CHBr3) and dibromomethane (CH2Br2) are known ozone depleters. however (A. Mellouki, et al., Atmospheric lifetimes and ozone depletion potentials of methyl bromide (CH3Br) and dibromomethane (CH2Br2), Geophys. Res. Letters, 1992, 19:20, 2059 ff).

    Just this past March researchers at Wageningen, Netherlands published their findings on the dangers of feeding seaweed to cows and found that bromoform appeared in milk and urine of the cows. They also noted inflammation of the rumen wall (Muizelaar, et al. Safety and Transfer Study: Transfer of Bromoform Present in Asparagopsis taxiformis to Milk and Urine of Lactating Dairy Cows, Foods 2021, 10(3), 584 ff).

    Not surprisingly, FutureFeed, a Queensland, Australia group which is trying to commercialize Asparagopsis specifically for cattle feed, pushed back on the Wageningen research, and published a (not peer reviewed) response on their website. You can read about it here:

    https://www.feednavigator.com/Article/2021/03/29/FutureFeed-slams-Dutch-seaweed-study-indicating-bromoform-transfer-to-milk-Wageningen-researcher-defends-the-work?fbclid=IwAR25RCcXrMCc-6d1BRc5XXP2_7AUL60i7P7PHhWmhU58nmBUMGEoW8nZVrg

    To your questions: (1) researchers have claimed that bromoform from seaweed is found in urine and milk, and (2) bromoform and it’s by-product are known ozone-depleting compounds.

    According to Machado, et al, the concentration of bromoform in Asparagopsis is 1723.2 μg g−1 (dry weight) (J Appl Phycol (2016) 28:3117–3126) so it takes very little of the substance to inhibit methanogensis.

    A. Mellouki, et al., Atmospheric lifetimes and ozone depletion potentials of methyl bromide (CH3Br) and dibromomethane (CH2Br2), Geophys. Res. Letters, 1992, 19:20, 2059 ff).

    So, yes, bromoform appears to

  10. Mark Anderson 2021-04-15

    Cow farts and how to deal with them, that is the question. Just eat less meat folks, wait until the Chinese start loving those steaks. All around the world, wow. Of course did you know the Native Americans around St. Louis in a city larger than Paris at the time, ate 2,000 deer a night while barbecuing and watching sports. This was in 1050 AD. Things haven’t changed much.

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