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.
“As a greenhouse gas, methane is about 28 times more potent in terms of global warming potential than carbon dioxide and lasts much longer in the atmosphere,” the CSIRO said on its website.
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.
“We think we can tackle the dairy and the feedlot part of that pretty simply, which may be 5 megatons in Australia and globally 500 megatons of emissions,” Dr Battaglia said.
“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.
“We’re hoping to start to see the first low-carbon products in the market by the end of this year, or early next year, and really start to give consumers that option for the milk and the meat that they like that has a reduced environmental footprint.”
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.
“We plan to set up a commercialisation fund for First Nations peoples around the world to be engaged in the production of the seaweed so they can get livelihoods as well as provide the ongoing seaweed supplies,” he said.
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.