Brazil’s beef industry is tackling methane emissions after the country signed a collective agreement at the COP26 climate change summit last year to lower emissions by 30 percent.
The different interventions being tried out include feeding cattle dietary supplements such as corn, soyabeans and cottonseed to reduce fermentation and lower gas output. At JBS, the world’s largest meatpacker, each of the 30,000 cattle will receive a quarter teaspoon of a feed additive that restricts the enzyme responsible for producing methane.
Cows and other ruminant animals produce methane as digestive enzymes break down grass, hay, and other feed, and are emitted mostly through burping. The meat industry produces 44% of global anthropogenic methane emissions, is a significant driver of deforestation worldwide and produces double the waste created by the entire human population. Methane is problematic because it is about 28 times more potent than carbon dioxide as a contributor to global warming.
Other plans in Brazil include accelerating the breeding cycle by altering the genetics of cattle and using feed supplements to bulk up the animal in less time. One solution being considered is to promote calf-to-meat farms where cattle spend their entire lifetimes. This is preferable to the current system because cattle that go through several farms before slaughter tend to have a lot of emissions over their lifetime.
Brazil updated a low-carbon agriculture program called the ABC Plan that provides low-interest loans to farmers to put in place sustainable practices.
Still, reducing cow burps will only do so much if deforestation is not also reduced. Rainforest is being cleared at the fastest rate in 15 years to make way for pasture or to grow crops for feedstock.