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Seaweed in Cow Feed Reduces Methane Emissions Almost Entirely (foodtank.com)
915 points by ryan_j_naughton on May 10, 2018 | hide | past | web | favorite | 264 comments

It will be interesting to see how this plays out, because right now the West coast from San Francisco North to at least Fort Bragg, has been suffering a kelp die off of great proportions.

No one is quite sure whats going on, but apparently due to climate change, or at least warmer ocean water from further South that we've had for the last 5 or more years, has caused the kelp to die off at a rapid rate, to the point of denuding whole sections of ocean bottom.

The whole sea urchin industry has been devastated, and those folks received Federal Disaster funds last year to make it through this year, but things are still bleak.

It's as big a catastrophe as the Australian coral die off, yet it's not getting much press here in the USA.

Per various articles I could find on the West Coast Kelp Die Off, it appears that multiple years of warm El Nino waters, a massive starfish wasting disease, and urchin boom resulted in a 3-pronged assault on kelp populations. Now that the El Nino waters have cooled, and the starfish population is returning to normal, 2 of the 3 stress factors are being reduced. The last--the urchin population--is being controlled through a combination of the regrowing starfish population and man-made efforts like urchin vacuums.

See https://www.kqed.org/science/1357320/scientists-and-fisherme....

So I have studied this issue extensively. I personally know Jon Holcomb, the vacuum inventor. First, to dispel any myths. There is zero funding for this effort. It also takes a solid month of effort to clear a football field sized area. Compare that speed to the breeding cycle of the invasive urchin species boom and you have a very ineffective method of population control. Although his efforts were innovative. Jon will echo my comments. I live in the coastal community area between Fort Bragg and SF. I have been diving for nine years now, and I can attest to the fact that the ocean is literally barren here. We are talking no sea life except these urchin and rocks. Most if not all urchin divers have sold their boats, and laid off their crew. They have no retirement, little savings and live under or just at the poverty line. The effects spread from the South to the North. The starfish population "boom" in Oregon isn't returning to normal, they have yet to survive the maelstrom that creeps their way. It is serious devastation out here.

I'm confused. (I literally mean it, I'm not advocating anything). If the urchins were dying off, I can understand why that would devastate the urchin divers, but why would a boom in urchins put them out of business? Why aren't the urchin divers doing the vacuuming and making more money than ever from a bumper crop of urchins?

There two species involved. From the linked article:

"Compared to red urchins ... [purple urchins are] smaller, less meaty and not worth fishing for. And they're voracious eaters of kelp."


After vacuuming up a bunch of purple urchins, would it be possible to alter their DNA to be more like that of red urchins? Then release those genetically modified urchins back into the ocean to pass their “red-shifted” traits into the greater purple urchin population.

I realize there are plenty of ethical issues surrounding an attempt at genetically modifying an entire species. Perhaps doing so would be irresponsible? It’s not my area of expertise.

Probably not, but a gene drive to get rid of purple urchins might be possible. Definitely irresponsible however.

I'm not saying that the kelp weren't devastated by those 3 things, I'm saying that the resulting devastation is not permanent.

Funding especially is an addressable issue; Patagonia, for example, donates to kelp restoration activities in SoCal and would presumably donate to similar efforts in NorCal if asked.

Sure, nothing is permanent - but the question is can the recovery happen in enough time that it doesn't have a devastating effect on the ecology and on the humans that live around there in human-time?

Say we push too far and endanger our species - we're doomed, but the planet will recover just fine. It has plenty times before over billions of years.

"The ecology" is fine, it's just different now.

Hey I agree. Even the ice age wasn't permanent.

Are those urchins edible/tasty? What you might need is urchin-eating tourism, then you’ll get your funding for cleaning them up.

I go scuba diving in the Monterey peninsula area and the effects have been similar there. Without the predatory sea stars (starfish) to keep them in check, purple sea urchins have scoured many areas clear of any other life. I haven't seen a sun star in years.

Wow, thanks for your input. How much different was it 10 years ago?

Ten years ago it was like a reef. You could find fish 5 ft/1.5m from the shore. The kelp beds were literal forests underwater. Now it's like a bomb went off. Plains of empty shells. Just death all around.

We're just getting out of a La Nina according to the climate prediction center (April was the first ENSO neutral month) and El Nino is on track to return later this year with a 50% and growing likelihood by winter 2018.

"catastrophe as the Australian coral die off,"

I went deep sea fishing in Florida a few months back. It took forever to get to a place where there were actual fish. I asked the captain why, basically, he knows where there are large shipping container wrecks and that is where all the sea life is.

Thing is, building coral and sea life is super simple [same with killing it]. You literally can just lay down wire grids and get things moving [1].

[1] http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-11-26/scientists-discover-ga...

"Thing is, building coral and sea life is super simple [same with killing it]."

That is just simply not true. While it might be helpful to lay down structures for sea life, ocean acidification [1], algal blooms [2], and climate change are all contributing to mass death of sea life, and fast enough where we will see many species go extinct in our lifetime (bluefin tuna will be there soon [3]).

Even related to your own fishing story, check out the fish sizes and diversity in the 1950s compared to now. [4]

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ocean_acidification

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Algal_bloom

[3] https://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2006/07/060724-blue...

[4] https://www.npr.org/sections/krulwich/2014/02/05/257046530/b...

Woah, I was really surprised by the different sizes of the fish.

Important to note is that the biggest fish caught in the 50s and 60s seem to all be goliath groupers (also known as jewfish) and are now critically endangered and illegal to keep. I imagine they still catch some on these charter boats, but they are required to release them once they do.

The unfortunate thing is that no matter whether something is illegal or not, it can still be a victim of bycatch when fishing for legal species, and bycatch mortality is quite high. Bycatch is actually higher than actual catch by weight for some fisheries+methods.[1] It's not just what you eat, but where it came from.

[1] http://www.fao.org/docrep/003/t4890e/t4890e03.htm

Edit: A couple of extra spaces removed

And of course the word 'illegal' in the open sea, when you have huge nurse ships in international waters (that will not touch any port in the country) means nothing.

> building coral and sea life is super simple

No. First you need an unpolluted area of ocean with the right conditions. And even then, thinking like yours can create more problems than it solves. Just look how the Osborne artificial reef actually led to an environmental disaster and massive cleanup effort.

[1] https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/may/22/florida-retr...

That story just keeps on giving.

> The tires, which were dumped before recycling was possible, will be trucked across the state to Florida’s west coast and burned for energy at a Wheelebrator Technologies renewable waste plant near Tampa, owned by private equity firm Energy Capital Partners.

We could recycle the tires, but fuck it, let’s burn them instead so this is an unmitigated disaster.

I believe there are "green" ways to burn tires if the conditions are properly controlled and emissions captured. I saw a YT vid about a cement plant in CA that burned them in a furnace for heat to dry the concrete powder.

Also, "recycling " tires isn't necessarily green because it takes enormous amounts of energy to shred them. While burning them releases energy.

I read about this thing in Florida a long time ago and got upset about it. When I was reminded about it that all rushed back.

Objectively, tires that have been underwater for decades probably are not a great raw ingredient for making bouncy surfaces for playgrounds or quiet asphalt.

But incinerating them even with emissions controls really only recovers a little bit of the embodied energy, and still makes me feel all table-flippy.

> renewable waste plant

I'm still trying to figure out what they mean by that. The plant is generating renewable waste? Or it's fed by a 'renewable' source of waste? I don't think tires are a renewable resource.

You got it, a renewable source of energy because people constantly generate waste. It's a term invented by a trash company to greenwash regular waste: http://www.wm.com/sustainability/renewable-energy.jsp

The kelp forests near South Australia have all died off as well: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/jul/07/australi...

Different species of brown macro-algae, but same in Spain in the lasts 15 years. Most submerged forests of Laminaria vanished.

It only takes a few degrees of temperature more and it seems that the young spores can't settle anymore. Brown algae have evolved to stand cold waters.

To exploit wild seaweed as a resource to feed millions of cows would create a plethora of new problems. Nobody would agree to abonate their meadow or orchard with a product with a high content of salt for example.

Not sure about the situation on the West Coast, but based on a recent 60 Minutes episode there seems to be a burgeoning commercial kelp farming market on the East Coast.


Exactly what I was thinking about too.

The episode even talked about how the increase acidification is really good for growing kelp.

>It's as big a catastrophe as the Australian coral die off

Not really. Kelp grows at 3+ inches a day. Coral <1 inch per year.

The rate of growth is immaterial if the die-off is because of a permanent change, which there is every reason to believe is the case (based on every model of climate change, and it will only get worse).

Also, the rest of the trophic web that the kelp forms the basis for is hosed. Since they are one of the most productive ecosystems, it's kind of a big deal.

There are different types of kelp, not all of which are as sensitive to water temperature. For example, SoCal's kelp forests were not as devasted as NorCal's kelp forest. The biggest concern for SoCal's kelp forests are controlling the urchin population. Moreover, kelp populations are easily restored through cuttings--an entire forest can be repopulated in less than a decade because kelp grow so quickly.

Kelp die-off is a problem, but it's a temporary and addressable problem.

According to the article, it's difficult to produce that large of an amount of seaweed. Probably not going to happen in the next 5 years.

"No one is quite sure whats going on, but apparently due to climate change"

Look... statements like that, don't help any serious arguments for climate change.

To practical-skeptics, you might as well have written "IDK BUT WE BETTER FAVOR SOME COMPANIES WITH TAXES TO BE SAFE" which is a real annoyance of mine.

Esp considering other commenters pretty much ruled out your assumption.

AGW skeptics, like evolution and spheroid Earth skeptics are their own audience, no one else is really bothering to tailor their speech to them. We’ve entered the casually dismissive phase of the relationship. The ROI for dealing with people who are in denial is rarely positive after all.

As reasonable as that seems, the reality is stark: keeping the debate officially open is a bet that you'll be able to win arguments, and telling your opponents it's over is a bet that they won't be able to scrape together any political power. Don't slam on the brakes until you've crossed that finish line, wherever that is.

The failure of climate-control laws to get passed should send a clear signal that debate is actually the only place where "climate change is happening" can win.

Only if a debate is had in good faith, does it have any hope of being something other than a waste of time. There’s a reason that scientists don’t debate flat earthers and young esrthers. Sometimes the debate acts only to legitimize a viewpoint which is beyond fringe, or provide cherry picking fodder for morons.

The sad truth of climate change is that debate is beside the point, it’s pure power dynamics. Massively rich and powerful entrenched interests simply don’t care about debate or consensus, they just want to keep profiting until the bitter end. They’re not really related to the keyboard warriors online who for ideological or psychological reasons want to endlesssly “debate” the issue.

I was watching the marvelous new edition of the Comos series, and it was really annoying the time spend rebuffing theories like "evolution does not exist" or "no prove of global warning". Please give more of the good stuff.

"AGW skeptics" just want a sincere conversation based on science. Like one would say, what about the effects of water vapor on climate change? And pointing out, you can't come to a conclusion and when it is disproven, cherry pick facts to fix your conclusion. It just doesn't work this way. So is it a sincere conversation or what? There's no point to engage with people who aren't honest about the science. Name calling, shaming, or framing them as "in denial" just confirms their observation the conversion isn't sincere.

> Like one would say, what about the effects of water vapor on climate change?

Is that a skeptics' thing? The answer is, water vapour is yet another positive feedback. https://www.nasa.gov/topics/earth/features/vapor_warming.htm...

"AGW skeptics" just want a sincere conversation based on science.

Twenty years ago, maybe. Today it’s like your racist uncle who always wants a “reasonable discussion about immigration” that would make a National Front member blush. You can’t blame the rest of us for figuring out the game and refusing to play.


It's actually related. The Russians are responsible for the kelp die off.

No one knows what’s going on, so climate change is the default blame?

But actually, California Fish and Wildlife DO know what’s going on:

“Environmental stressors included impacts from a toxic algae bloom off the Sonoma coast in 2011, a widespread sea star disease in 2013 that was followed by an explosion in the sea urchin population, and the warm water conditions that have persisted offshore since 2014. In 2014 and 2015, coastal water temperatures along the West Coast rocketed upwards due to a combination of oceanographic features: the “Warm Blob” in 2014, combined with a strong El Niño that began in 2015.”


Climate change seems like a religion. “We don’t know why x is happening, so we’ll just say it’s God’s will.” That’s about the most anti-science attitude possible and it’s being embraced by people who purport to care about science. But, in the case of California kelp, we actually do know what is happening and it has nothing to do with long term climatic events — the warm water was due to cyclical ocean activity: La Niña and that combined with a sea star disease and toxic algae caused this problem. And notice, the problem didn’t exist in 2010. So global warming for hundreds of years, but it had little impact on kelp until just magically in 2015 — that was the tipping point for kelp? This is the sort of nonsense that makes me detest the global warming crowd. Clearly global warming isn’t the cause of the California kelp issue, yet, predictably, that issue gets added into the propaganda machine.

Let’s say climate change isn’t the cause of Absolutely Every Natural Phenomenon.. but there are those that would make policy as if it were. A half degree rise in temperature — assuming that is actually true, isn’t going to cause a massive kelp die-off, considering Pacific ocean temperatures fluctuate by far more dramatic amounts routinely due to El Niño/La Niña. The ocean is far more resilient. Pollution is a far more dire danger. Chemical runoff, trash dumping — far more toxic to the ocean than anything else.

But, it easier just to spout “climate change” and the “woke” folks will just nod knowingly, actual causation or proof be damned. And we just continue along the socially acceptable path of blaming capitalism for all the world’s problems without actually doing much to solve anything.

Dude chill... you are essentially saying the same thing.

> … due to climate change, or at least warmer ocean water from further South that we've had for the last 5 or more years, has caused the kelp to die off at a rapid rate

TFW your climate change denialism goes so far off the deep end that you literally claim that warmer water in the most global of the oceans isn't related to global warming...

Climate change isn't the weather. It isn't one year or several years, it's a trend over decades or centuries or millennia.

Do you know what's normal? Abnormal weather. Exceptional circumstances happen all the time, weather conditions do not follow a bell curve.

I am not at all denying climate change, but you can never point to an event and shout about it. It's a long term statistical trend, not a few coincidental events. It's one variable out of many that cause every weather event.

Warmer water is absolutely not related to climate change when you're talking about small scale short term events.

For the record, our ability to link individual weather events to climate change is not zero. In the last 3 years or so we have become pretty good at it.


> Warmer water is absolutely not related to climate change Warmer water is not absolutely related to climate change

I think you got your "not" in the wrong place. No, climate change isn't the only thing, however it can be, along with human caused acidification / pollution.

The fact is this systems are so complex and so integrated that we do not know "absolutely", but we have a good idea.

But hey, if it isn't absolute, lets carry on destroying our planet, we have a backup plan after all... oh wait

The problem with that argument is that articles are written about individual events, and aren’t trying to be comprehensive evaluations of global warming.

It’s neither informative nor helpful to dismiss such individual articles as being non-indicators of global warming because they don’t cover all the other evidence at the same time.

I think of it like rolling dice. Say you've got a pair of 6-sided game die. Rolling a 12 represents a massive weather event (eg so-called "century storms"), and gobal warming replaced some of each cube's faces (say, changing the 4's or 5's to a 6) then for a given roll, you can't say for sure whether global warming's to blame -- but when 12's start showing up more than 1/12th of the time, you also can't say "that's absolutely not related".

“Exceptional circumstances happen all the time”. Yeah it’s called an oxymoron.

If one billion events happen in a day, then some one-in-a-billion event is likely to happen every day.

Some of them, like a coin landing perfectly sideways will just go on Youtube. Some of them will end up in the news.

From the article you link: - Sea star disease: probably linked to increased sea temperatures, see https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fmars.2018.0007... - Warm blob: nobody seems quite sure to what extent climate change is involved here, see: https://phys.org/news/2015-04-wedge-seawater-blob-blamed-mar... but to be clear, this is literally an increase in ocean temperature

I'm not saying "hey this is definitely due to climate change", but ridiculing the suggestion that an event apparently linked to increased ocean temperatures might have something to do with climate change seems a little off.

Downvoted, and I want to explain why. It's not because I disagree (I do), nor for the tone (tho it's unpleasant), but because it presents what only looks like reasoned argument on the surface, while suffering from internal logical inconsistency. Your comment isn't legit dissent as a persecuted minority, it's nonsense.

You say "...it's not climate change, it's [X,Y and Z]." But you list things that are perfectly consistent w/ dire warnings from consensus scientific community that global warming is _definitely_ real and _probably_ anthropogenic (tho this latter is less important).

Then (paraphrasing), "things have been getting warmer for a long time so it's ridiculous that there was a tipping point in 2015".

And you detest people who don't follow this "logic".

Next we have a half-baked strawman arg about blaming capitalism...

You're right that pollution is a massive problem, but while true it's also (nearly) irrelevant to the question of ocean temp.

I strive to avoid feeding trolls, but posts like this that only look substantial on the surface are even more corrosive and imho worth calling out.

This is part of the opportunity cost of the current extreme political climate and economic situation. Though people would still not necessarily pay much attention.

With an ag background I've been following this story for a long time. It has excited enough interest in America that trials are underway, I believe off the coast of Maine to grow red algae but I can't find the link.

But they've already had luck growing red algae off the coast of the Hawaiian island of Molokai. I've been to Molokai and although there's a lot of farmland there it's laying idle. Most of the land was used previously by Dole I believe to raise pineapple's.

I was scheming with some fellow agronomists at the time what we could grow profitably. Most of the former workers commute presently to Maui and work in the hotels. It would be hilarious to me if the entire farming industry ended up taking place off the coast.


Can anyone provide a sense of scale and impact if these results were to hold and if the majority of the world beef production were to switch to it?

My understanding is that around half of the world's greenhouse gas comes from livestock. Would it mean that this could cut our emissions by half? Would it be therefore much more cost efficient to have the government invest is growing and distributing red algae than whatever we're currently spending money on? Do we have a sense of how much it would cost to produce that much seaweed?

> My understanding is that around half of the world's greenhouse gas comes from livestock

That's not right. The highest number I've been able to find for the whole of agriculture is 24% of world greenhouse gas emissions.


About 25% of that is methane from livestock (http://old.grida.no/graphicslib/detail/greenhouse-gas-emissi...)

So livestock is about 6% of total greenhouse gas emissions.

One also has to consider that the methane decays over a matter of decades. Other than CO2, which stays in the atmosphere until it is taken out.

So, even if methane takes a big share in current greenhouse emissions, its share in the accumulated greenhouse gases in the atmosphere will be lower.

The climate change it causes is temporary. (Disregarding runaway effects.)


Decades – we don't have decades to fix this.

Also, it decays into CO2, so to claim that its effects are temporary is misleading. On top of that, as long as the carbon is in a CH4 bond, it traps at least 20× as much radiation. Please don't dismiss the significance of methane emissions.

How many years do we have to fix this then? Alternatively, at what point will activists start saying we passed the point of no fix and give up their activism?

Here you go: https://croadsworldclimate.climateinteractive.org/

Honestly dude, rise above the cynicism (if that's how you meant to come across). You're a goddamn adult, and a well-educated engineer at that. Your current standard of living is at risk because of climate change (also millions of lives in poorer countries, but whatever). Spend 10 seconds on a Google search. "Activists" don't owe you any answers.

Never forget, despite what the sensationalists will tell you, climate change is very much fixable. Clean energy and better land management can and will get us there – and eventually, maybe in 200 years, we'll sequester enough carbon to get back to 350ppm. The question is about what happens in the meantime: if we act fast, we'll only get decades of food insecurity, war, and displacement, mostly in poorer countries [2]. If we delay further, we'll simply see much worse, and at home as well. But the "point of no return" rhetoric is nonsense and does nothing but paralyze people.

By the way, one of the easiest and fastest ways to catalyze at-scale solutions would be a revenue-neutral carbon tax at the source, effectively internalizing the social costs of climate change and letting the free market do its thing. (Look up "fee and dividend"; lots of folks are working on this already.)

[1] unless we hit some really unlucky runaway feedback loop, which is possible. [2] plus the disease epidemics and terrorism that come along with it – we don't live on an island.

You're the one writing phrases like "we don't have decades to fix this". How is one supposed to interpret that as anything but "point of no return" rhetoric, especially in light of that rhetoric actually being used with some frequency for the last few decades? I agree it's not helpful rhetoric, so maybe I should have aimed my comment at alarmists who use the rhetoric but who haven't fully embraced that it's too late, instead of the more general activists.

I'm fully on-board with planetary engineering projects. Those require engineering work and capital more than activism, though.

Do you want to make a prediction on the accuracy of whatever climate model you like (we can use the one you linked if you prefer) for what the temperature increase will be in 2 years, 7 years, and 12 years? We can record it at https://predictionbook.com/

Climate change is mostly no binary event. There is the risk of runaway effects, and possible extinction (though unlikely) but luckily we haven't hit those yet.

The political 2 degree goal is damage control. Climate models are complex and impacts harder to predict the more you divert from the current situation.

At 2 degrees the costs to society (social costs of carbon) far outweigh the mitigation costs. To hit the 2 degree target we have to act swiftly "we don't have decades to fix this" we are not (yet) at a "point of no return"

As green house gases are currently an externality, there will be no capital without activism.

I am too young to look back decades, but my understanding was that the "we don't have decades to fix this" guys in the 80s and 90s were more about running out of oil(and that turned out to be no problem as rising prices make more expensive extraction feasible) and that climate change as a concern only really started in the 90s (even though known long before that). And there are already damages that could have been prevented by acting swiftly in the 90s. We could have reached e.g. a 1.5 degree target. So the "we don't have decades to fix this" rethoric is fitting as ever.

I got to that point 3-4 years ago, personally. Even if it were economically and technically possible to get our act together, it has become entirely clear that the political system is incapable of acting quickly enough.

> Also, it decays into CO2…

If that carbon was already in the biosphere that’s mostly, fine long term. I worry a lot more about the carbon we keep adding to it, that wasn’t in the equation.

We should he focusing on plastics rather than methane.

The runaway effects are exactly the concern. Check out research on methane clathrates in the Mesozoic. Methane is 24x as potent a GHG than CO2.

When you see the gas flares in hydrocarbon production fields it may look like a waste (it is), but it has to be done because the alternative of releasing methane into the atmosphere is worse.

Methane contains carbon so it's not 100% temporary just mostly.

As far as I can see, those references do not mention whether they have corrected for the fact that methane is a ~20x more potent greenhouse gas than CO2. Are they counting per volume or per potency? That is an incredibly important distinction. Which, to be honest, they should have made, one way or the other.

They are in the units "greenhouse gas emissions" which corrects for the extra potency. The sad thing is that people often double-correct for such things.

Potency is typically assumed in the industry, the volume of methane is trivial compared to volume of CO2.

Random Gaurdian story puts methane : "Methane accounted for about 16% of global greenhouse gas emissions in 2015, according to the IPCC." (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/sep/29/methane-...)

Wikipedia puts (with some question about the citation) methan at 4-9% of total greenhouse effect contribution, and CO2 at 9-26%. (And then water vapor way above that, at 36-72%.) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greenhouse_gas#Greenhouse_gase...

How are we producing water vapor more than say clouds?

I think the table is attributing greenhouse to gases generally, not to man-made gases; as a result, water vapor wins. (OTOH, turning clouds into drinking water at scale would be a cool way to fight global warming and deal with drought at the same time. My understanding is that storm seeding has a pretty seedy history, though.)

Your figure is from cowspiracy - it's worth looking up the film to discover its many other inaccuracies.


Excellent article, thank you for linking it. I love and appreciate my vegan friends (have been one in the past, might be again in the future), but they need to be realistic about convincing others to change deeply-ingrained eating habits.

Short of an apocalyptic event, you could spend 100% of your spare time and energy trying to get people to stop eating meat and you'd be lucky to get a dozen lasting conversions. It's simply not an effective use of resources to make that your main/only focus.

Almost quit beef due to the info in Cowspiracy in which I believe they pointed out that if everyone were to switch to grass fed beef there would literally not be enough grassland to support it (this is probably true, with the assumption that various plant crops continue their unsustainable land footprint). However, having seen also "The Magic Pill" on Netflix, I've concluded the optimal solution is probably more, healthier beef, and less plant agriculture land. The real problem isn't the cows, it's what the cows eat, which is mostly corn, soy, grains etc. Put as simply as I can: if humans committed to eating fewer carbs, and eating grass fed fatty meat and high quality plant oils for the bulk of their calories, the resulting system would produce huge carbon capture because grassland in its 'growth phase' is a very efficient carbon sink, and is more supportive of healthy soil than fields of corn, soy, and grains.

So you chose to keep eating beef, because you think it's possible to create sustainable beef, even though the beef you do eat is not sustainably sourced?

How is it possible to product carbon capture, if all the grass is being consumed by cattle who then either exhale it or get eaten by humans who exhale it?

I understand the skepticism. I actually try to eat grassfed beef where budgetary constraints allow. In my opinion, grassfed beef today is the most sustainable land -based option given that the person consuming it is fat adapted. If eaten it in the traditional American diet of steak, potatoes, often beer, and bread, the result of this is a less efficient metabolism, the net result of which is more unsustainable agriculture because the person is going back to relying in part on intensive plant agriculture. I have an answer to the exhalation question, which I think is important to understand. The hydrocarbons generated by photosynthesis in the grass go into the cow, become protein and fat in the cow, and then go into the human, and become a hydrocarbon based store of energy. Most of the result of the use of this store is energy, heat, and two biproducts (H2O and CO2) (the efficiency ratios here matter and they are favorable in both healthy cows and humans). As long as we have a human/animal population on earth, we will have a system that produces energy (muscle movement and neurons firing), heat (waste from the inefficiency of our neuro-muscular-skeletal system) and CO2 and H20. The question, which I think grassfed beef addresses, is what is the most efficient way to take sunlight, water, and CO2, and convert that into energy for the human/animal population to use? To this I'd add in my optimal system we actually address the dual-threat type problems of overfishing and ocean acidification, and encourage sustainable harvesting of smaller fish with population management controls (ie sardines and anchovies).

The economics of veggie proselytism actually look pretty good.

Animal Charity Evaluators found that for every $11 spent in online ads, you could make one person go to a website, sign up with their email, and pledge to go vegetarian for a year. The average vegetarian [1] produces 1.5 metric tons less CO2eq per year, so this means that the online ads decrease carbon at a cost of $7.40 per ton. That's cheaper than buying typical carbon offset certificates ($10-$15 per ton).

Maybe it's too optimistic to assume that everyone who makes a pledge on the website actually stays vegetarian for a year, or that they were average-level meat consumers before. Still, animal farming is bad enough that reducing it is probably cost-competitive with other current CO2 reduction approaches.

[1] I'm not sure if their use of "vegetarian" means "completely vegan".

It is too optimistic to assume that anyone who makes a pledge on a website follows through on it for even one day.

It's the online equivalent to honking your horn for the protesters holding up signs next to the road. Easily done; easily forgotten.

I don't understand your math.

Wouldn't you need to look at the difference in CO2eq between an average non-vegetarian and vegetarian?

Sorry, typo – I meant to say less than. Fixed.

I think the real problem would be induced demand from cheaper prices of meat making up the difference.

The article says the correct amount is 15%, which is still extremely large.

Can anyone provide a sense of scale and impact if these results were to hold and if the majority of the world beef production were to switch to it?

Yes. According to the numbers of Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, this would be about a 6.4% reduction in total green house gas emissions. See below for the numbers

> Total emissions from global livestock: 7.1 Gigatonnes of Co2-equiv per year, representing __14.5 percent of all anthropogenic GHG emissions__. This figure is in line FAO’s previous assessment, Livestock’s Long Shadow, published in 2006, although it is based on a much more detailed analysis and improved data sets. The two figures cannot be accurately compared, as reference periods and sources differ.

> About __44 percent of livestock emissions are in the form of methane__ (CH4). The remaining part is almost equally shared between Nitrous Dioxide (N2O, 29 percent) and Carbon Dioxide (CO2, 27 percent).

  Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
.44 * 14.5 = 6.38%

Did Molokai farming end because of soil depletion, or ...?

It ended because it isn’t cost effective.

Correct. We were told that it was no longer cost effective.

All that really means is that it became cheaper to ship food from other places. If the cost of shipping went up, Hawai'i agriculture would be "cost effective" again.

Doubtful. The cost of land here is crazy high and shipping costs affect us too. The double whammy is that it is expensive to get equipment and parts out to us. And don’t forget about labor costs.

The thread hypothesis is that there is a great deal of "idle" land. I've never been to Moloka'i and I don't know if that's true. When I lived on O'ahu it seemed that many people who basically lived on the beach would be glad to have agricultural work rather than e.g. catering to tourists. Shipping a tractor once is cheaper than shipping container-loads of vegetables every week, and that's more true the more that shipping costs rise. Tractors come from Asia now, anyway.

For a moment this was the best news I had read in years, until I noticed the story is a year old and the research paper[1] is two years old. Hopefully there has been some progress in the past years but if that were the case we would should have seen another headline by now. At least I haven't.

Normally 2 years wouldn't be much time to go from a research paper to production. But this appears to be a simple solution to an urgent problem so it's hard to be patient.

[1] https://researchonline.jcu.edu.au/43225/

Is there any immediate economic incentive to adding algae into feed?

Wouldn't you agree that markets don't deal effectively with many or most commercial endeavors' unwanted side effects (negative externalities), and so authorities often need to step in when market failure causes damage?

In this case, if the science is real, a global treaty would seem in order to simply mandate the effective use of seaweed in cow feed.

I hope all governments move on things like this, but ultimately, international agencies like the WTO should be, excuse me..., beefed up to deal with these kinds of issues that affect the entire planet and all of its inhabitants.

"Is there any immediate economic incentive to adding algae into feed?"

the incentive is trivially simple. free seaweed. im assuming there is fiber, and at least some nutrients in seaweed, but no farmer is going to turn down free food. to me it seems like it would be very similar to alfalfa/hay.

not sure what that would cost, or if that much can be produced however. also, dairy farmers at least care very much about the ratios of various feedstocks, so the assumption about nutrition is important.

A carbon tax or cap and trade system would create such an economic incentive.

What's to discourage the cattle owner from claiming their cows produce no methane due to seaweed use & then collecting the cap and trade/carbon tax benefit while not bothering with the seaweed?

More broadly, how does cap and trade/carbon tax measure the footprint of a business in the first place? I've found no material on the subject but my guess is that they do it based on the power plant/fuel you're using & how much energy your using. Not sure how they measure gases as a byproduct of industrial processes but maybe that's minuscule?

The possibility of an IRS audit would discourage lying about it. If you're claiming to be feeding your cattle seaweed, you're going to have to buy it. Just like any other business expense, you'll need receipts. And once you have the seaweed feed, you might as well use it.

To be honest, I'm not sure how the emissions measuring is done, but I think it's handled on the supply-side for fuel and electricity in existing implementations. Suppliers just pass on the cost of taxes. For direct agricultural emissions from cattle, you could probably use an estimate based on the average emissions per cow, and provide a deduction based on feed. Maybe with an exemption for small farms.

Farmers could buy their seaweed from Acme Agrisupply, SuperKelp(TM) "made with 100% seaweed" (3% seaweed by weight, 97% corn filler), which costs 1/10th the price of real seaweed.

If a farmer were going to defraud the carbon tax system, what would they do with the seaweed they paid for?

Sell it to another farmer.

> how does cap and trade/carbon tax measure the footprint of a business in the first place

Satellites, sensors on Google street view cars, etc.


> Is there any immediate economic incentive to adding algae into feed?

You can charge more for it? Many consumers are willing to pay more for environmentally-friendlier options now.

1. That would only affect a small portion of the global market 2. You'd have verification problems, same as with a lot of things now claimed to be organic/free range/etc but aren't really in the sense people expect

There are already people intentionally buying beef straight from producers, to ensure that it's "grass fed". If warming enthusiasts cared as much about this issue as these paleo dieters do about avoiding flavorful beef, they could do the same.

As you say, the effect would be small, but why would that stop anyone from doing it?

Oh I reread the thread and saw you were only addressing whether there is an immediate incentive. Yes, you're right, there certainly would be one, and it probably could be organic/paleo level successful. Probably doing it privately successfully would help rally support for an eventual law.

I'm sure some genius could come up with a marketing campaign around "Fartless Beef".

Here, I'll give it a try: "Think outside the butt."

As other posters have said, it seems like it can be tricky to incentivise cattle owners to add algae to their feed, check this has actually been added, in proportions that have the desired effect, and so on.

But how about if governments provide subsidised feed centrally, instead, with the algae added?

What if it turns out to make healthier cows? I'm not just making that up, I think it will probably have a positive effect - cows need iodine too! Not sure if it's enough to sway farmers.

This particular iodine compound is effective precisely because it kills methanogenic gut bacteria. Given that those bacteria are a normal part of cows' gut flora, it's reasonable to worry that killing them might be bad for the cows, and would be surprising if it was good for them.

Although, of course, it might be! That's why the only way forward is to test it empirically.

Can't believe this comment is the only mention of iodine in both the thread and the article. I supplement iodine daily and it's honestly changed my life.

Which supplement you are taking and where are you buying it ?

Get some blood work done before adding supplements to your diet. Creating an imbalance is even worst.

Ditto. Iodine and Magnesium have eliminated my asthma and had other positive effects - no sugar crashes two hours after eating for example.

Or just legislate that feed manufacturers must add the algae?

Sadly, I fear legislators won't do that until there's an economic advantage for their supporters. So they need some magnates to be convinced, and buy up the production before they go ahead.

Why would legislators make regulations that just save the planet but don't make them rich? /s

There couldn't possibly be any unintended side effects of that...

There are ways to mitigate unintended side effects. Start with a small small number of farms, AB test with no seaweed, small amounts of seaweed, medium amounts of seaweed, large amounts of seaweed, also AB test on which Farmers know which sample they are getting, iterate next year on results with larger number of Farmers. Buy insurance to compensate Farmers if the seaweed kills them. Discover why they died. Iterate with solution (if possible) or cancel (if seaweed always results in eventual death). Continue to keep large population of seaweed free cattle to mitigate possibly of extinction via unexpected long term consequences of seaweed.

Agriculture is already heavily regulated and inspected in terms of such things at least in the EU, owing to the fact that farmers get most of their income from subsidies and these are predicated on various terms.

Of course, it would be much simpler to just stop the nonsensical subsidies of environmentally and ethically disastrous ag products like beef...

> owing to the fact that farmers get most of their income from subsidies

Where on earth do people get these beliefs?

Depends on how you count, and if "income" is "revenue" or "profit".

~$200B/yr in subsidies in USA: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_farm_bill

$990B/yr food GDP in USA: https://www.ers.usda.gov/data-products/ag-and-food-statistic...

In my country it's 50+ %. While the EU paid direct cash subsidies are high, they only scrape the surface making up about 25% of the subsidies.

On top of the EU sibsidies there are direct national subsisidies and a wide spectrum of indirect national and EU level subsidies like export, pension, environmental, protectionist import duties, etc. And yes, beef production gets a similar share of subsidies as other types of farming.

I can't find good europe wide stats. I may have overgeneralized and the average may be under 50%. But the subsidies are still very high.

Yes, farmers can sell their own use of seaweed additive as carbon "offsets". Environment-conscious businesses buy these credits to become effectively carbon neutral.

One potential economic incentive is that feeding cows algae produces a nutritionally higher quality meat; one much higher in beneficial Omega-3 fatty acids vs the current high Omega-6 meat produced from grain fed cows.

There is at least one company approaching it from that angle. [http://www.omega3beef.com/]

Either we impose a gas credit system on the cattle industry or, more likely, governments subsidize dairy farmers that use algae in their feed. Either way, there is no financial incentive to produce less methane. It will require regulation

>Either way, there is no financial incentive to produce less methane.

There is a distinct thermodynamic incentive to reduce methane, because the methanogenic bacteria are "eating" the energy that the cow would otherwise absorb.

This translates directly into a financial incentive, because the cows require less feed.


>Methane is a by-product of the microbial fermentation of carbohydrates in the diets of ruminant animals. Because cattle can lose about 6% of their dietary intake energy as CH4, substantial research to estimate this production and to reduce CH4 emissions has been completed (Johnson and Johnson, 1995).

Which means it won't happen for at least 3 more years.

How is that the article’s title and did any of the comments on seaweed read the article? It was the experiment with red algae, not the seaweed experiments that “reduces methane emissions almost entirely”.

> Kinley and De Nys tested 20 different species of seaweed on bacteria found in the stomachs of cows. They discovered seaweed reduced methane production by up to 50 percent, depending on the amount administered. But methane reduction at notable levels required high doses of seaweed, almost 20 percent by weight of the sample. This large percentage of seaweed would be difficult to implement outside of the lab and would likely have a negative effect on cow’s digestion.

> When the researchers tested a species of red algae called Asparagopsis taxiformis that grows off the coast of Queensland, Australia, they found it reduced methane production by more than 99 percent in the lab. In addition, it only required a dose of less than 2 percent to work effectively.

Seaweed is a colloquial term for macroalgae. Asparagopsis taxiformis is a red macroalgae.

Most seaweed (65%) are red algae.[0]

0) http://www.seaweed.ie/algae/rhodophyta.php

I recently heard about Russian cosmonauts eating a lot of dill to counteract farting. It's apparently called a carminative, and seaweed is a carminative too.

Interesting, but I believe that methane emissions from cows are burps rather than farts, and there's a lot more fermentation going on in a cow's rumen than in our guts, so there might be some other mechanism at play here. Or perhaps not.

OTOH, aren't farts just unreleased burps that passed into the intestines.

I think in humans burps are a release of swallowed air, while farts are gasses produced by fermentation in the intestines. Ruminants OTOH have a fermentation chamber (rumen) as the first part of their digestive system (their first 'stomach'). Other animals have different fermentation strategies.

Human burps are air that you swallowed, or from CO2 from either drinks or produced when stomach acid mixes with bicarbonate. That CO2 does not necessarily has to come out as a burp, it can also pass into the blood stream. We don't have a rumen like cows do, where bacteria start breaking down the food. Our stomachs are mostly free of bacteria (except for things like helicobacter pylori). All our bacteria-activity is in the large intestine. A lot of the gases are absorbed and exhaled through the lungs, not all of it has to come out through the rectum.

Much better explanation and a lot more details: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK417/

If that were the case, I would certainly not want to burp so near my nose.

Maybe that's why cabbage and cheese pies are made with dill in Russia and Eastern Europe.

I need more dill in my life! After weight lots surgery, any carbohydrates give me the most painful gas.

>I need more dill in my life!

Yeah, sure, _until you don't_. Bear in mind that it's essentially an invasive weed if you have a backyard garden. Be careful if you attempt to grow it at home, it might take over.

Eastern swallow tails will take care of almost any dill problem you have. They'll do a number of fennel too, if it is there. Things I've learned hacking in the garden.

I love finding gold like this deep in a thread.

I find cilantro completely outcompetes dill.

I'll have to give that a try, thanks!

Unfortunately, there are fishermen that are no longer able to make a living because they have depleted the fish in the area they fish, so now they are looking for a new way to make a living. Farming seaweed seems to be a possible alternative to fishing. We'll be seeing a lot more stories about how great seaweed is as the industry starts to make a market for it.

Feeding cattle grass will reduce the methane just as much as seaweed, I bet. The problem is that the majority of cows are fed a diet of corn, which is cheap relative to grass, which does not appeal to their digestive system so therefore we get a lot of methane out of the whole process. What I see here is somebody trying to sell seaweed as an additive. But the reality is that if you fed cows the proper feed, grass, then we wouldn't have the big problem with methane.

Edit- Update, seems like grass is a bigger methane producer when digested by cows. The problem is the pollution created to produce and transport the corn. I was going by old info.

Here's a link.


> Feeding cattle grass will reduce the methane just as much as seaweed, I bet.

From the article, it only takes a few percent of seaweed in the cow diet to reduce methane. I'd guess the same doesn't hold for grass. Cows that get to go into a pasture probably get a few percent of grass.

My partner is studying the effects of cow grazing on various greenhouse gas things, and the amount of data you need to get/the number of times you need to replicate before policy makers are willing to step in, is really quite substantial.

I showed this article to her last year when it popped up, and she said "show me a large sample size and replicate it stateside and then I'll start caring."

harsh, but I think that's where we are with this kind of thing.

Also, "they found it reduced methane production by more than 99 percent in the lab."

In the lab? On "bacteria found in the stomach of cows"?

That's a long way off from what the title suggests; this research is definitely still valuable, but I think we do scientific reporting a disservice when we make much bolder claims than the actual science bears out.

Lab studies != actual cows eating stuff

Lab studies ~= spherical cows eating stuff

There is a big industry in seaweed harvesting carrageenan is extracted from it to use as a thickener it's used in ice cream and other products.

The 2014 study mentioned is from my region the Atlantic Veterinary College. There was a large Irish Moss industry here years ago but most of it has switched to Asian markets with cheaper labour and tropical climate.

Although there may soon be a glut of seaweed and any cattle farmers may be in luck. It seems carrageenan is the flavour of the month toxin everyone is now trying to avoid (of course it's harmless).

Here's Dr. Joe Schwarcz opinion as well, specific to carrageenan in chocolate milk: http://montrealgazette.com/technology/science/the-right-chem...

> of course it's harmless

Unless you're celiac. It is close enough to gluten that many celiacs have the same reaction to carrageenan as gluten. The real flavor of the month is gluten-free and it's getting swept up in that.

Serious question, what incentive is there for this to be done on a large scale by anyone?

The EPA is being systematically dismantled and the official line of the government (or at least, those in charge of the government) is that climate change is not man made. If it is just a natural process, how could our food systems have any impact on it?

I can't imagine how this wouldn't add at least some costs to feed prices, and my guess is farmers are operating on razor thin margins already. Without some government regulations that put a price on greenhouse gasses why would anyone implement this except on boutique scales?

>... dairy farmer named Joe Dorgan inadvertently conducted an experiment on his herd in Prince Edward Island, Canada. Dorgan noticed cows that grazed on washed-up seaweed in paddocks along the shore were healthier and more productive ... and found the new diet saved him money and induced “rip-roaring heats,” or longer cycles of reproductive activity.

Thats great, but it only saved him money because it washed up right on his shore. It saves a small farmer money to let their cows graze on lush green pastures that they need to keep eaten down anyways but that doesn't mean that letting cows graze on lush pastures saves the industry money overall. In general its going to cost more more than likely to get seaweed into the supply chain. Its a race to the bottom, it has to be cheaper than subsidized corn which almost nothing is.

Slap a "No Cow Farts" sticker/logo on beef raised with a sufficient level of seaweed in their diet. Choose that instead of farty-beef at the store.

Don't expect anything to work as well as individuals changing their minds about what is important and acting on it.

Thats crazy, that depends entirely on people being able to afford to pay more for the same basic product. What economics would indicate that this would happen?

You can get antibiotic free meat from whole foods etc, but what do you think is consumed at higher quantities?

If its purely up to buyers choice, it will not happen unless there is a cost associated with carbon output.

Lot's of people pay extra for "organic", "grass-fed", "cage-free", "fair trade", "kosher" and other certifications on products now. "Organic" has just about taken over the produce section in my supermarket in the last few years. And "USDA organic" has dubious value for a lot of products.

If you observe that people don't often pay for "antibiotic free" meat it's likely because they don't see it as a worthwhile value proposition.

If you say that buyers won't choose to pay for global-warming-safe beef, while watching them choose to pay for chemical-pesticide-free beef then that is just another way of saying that no one cares about global warming, and I don't think that is the case.

How does a discovery like this take place? There must be so many crazy facts like this that have not yet been discovered, and able to make the world a better place. I'm guessing it started out as a hunch and snowballed into a study. Is there a way we can speed up the world's crazy thought ecosystem to promote sharing information that will lead to more discoveries like this?

It says right there in the article -- a coastal farmer discovered that the cows grazing on nearby seaweed were healthier and had more active periods of heat. A subsequent study found that it also had an effect on methane production.

Where does the methane go? Does the hydrogen and carbon just move to the dung and meat? Genuinely curious.

Im bitterly disappointed that greenhouse gas emissions from livestock rarely enter conversation with people who care about climate change, so this is nice to hear it being discussed. Even better something which helps.

Im curious however if anyone here knows if the gas is switched from methane to something else or it just isn't produced in the first place and exits the animal as solids and liquids?

I would suspect it doesn't matter. If the cow doesn't produce methane in its digestion process, it will be produced when the cow excrement biodegrades.

Does the methane get released after the cow has finished digestion and the manure is left to rot? The carbon has to go somewhere if it's not turned into methane inside the cow.

Apparently most bovine-sourced methane comes from the burp part of the cycle rather than the fart. Manure may actually come in third when it comes to methane and the cow.

Like humans (86%!), I suspect most carbon that passes through a cow is exhaled as carbon dioxide.

> I suspect most carbon that passes through a cow is exhaled as carbon dioxide.

That would mean that the cow gets higher nutritional value and can needs less food.

Can this study be done with the cow feed just being plain old grass? There’s lots of anecdotal evidence showing grass fed cows don’t produce much methane, thereby making pasture raised meat environmentally friendly. Yet there doesn’t appear to be many studies on it for whatever reason. Everything is focused on corn-based cow feed.

I believe grass fed cattle produce more methane actually.


One study [1] compared two different types of grasses vs grain feed. The cows that ate grass produced more methane per kJ consumed than those that ate the grain feed. There are a bit stranger numbers preceding these figures, where the cows that ate one grass type actually produced less methane overall than all the other cows, but apparently because they were consuming considerably less (all cows were allowed to eat freely). Mind you, this was a study of 6 cows.

[1] https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/c726/1bccd1f76d5060913b56cc...

I live on a dairy. Totally not a controlled study, but the cows digestive systems can't handle grazing as well as they can handle a nutritionist-controlled diet. Their manure gets bubbly with gas when eating grass.

That article says the study found that grazed beef release more carbon than the carbon offset by soil sequestration. It doesn't say it releases more carbon then grain-fed, and actually, while I haven't read the source study, the general implication in the article seems to lean toward grazed beef releasing less than grain-fed (just not, according to the researchers, enough less to be carbon-neutral).

I don't think that's true at all.

Would this work also for... Ehm a friend of mine?

Jokes aside, this won’t reduce flatulence, just methane. Most humans don’t have methanogen bacteria in their guts anyway, so it wouldn’t matter.

Even so, animal ag still uses lots of land, water, risks pollution of air and water, pandemic and antibotic resistance.

probably easier to get animals to eat kelp than to get humans to stop eating animals.

Perhaps they should study the nutritional impacts of the resulting beef before they get too far with this. Grass fed beef is much tastier and much more nutritious than feed lot fed beef.

Does feeding the seaweed reduce the need for using antibiotics required when feeding corn to cattle? That would be a real win.

In what sense is grass fed beef more nutritious? It's a rather nebulous term, hence my question.

Eating grass provides better nutrition for the cattle, and the meat ends up with more nutrition such as omega 3s.


In a feed lot, cattle are fed a diet that practically requires antibiotics to keep them alive long enough to slaughter.

They mostly use antibiotics to promote growth. Feed lots increase risk of disease because cattle are closer together, but their diet doesn't really have anything to do with the use of antibiotics.

It would be interesting to compare feedlot vs feedlot/algae vs grassfed. There is already a solution to this problem that has numerous other benefits. Revert all of the former grasslands that are monoculture fields of corn to raise grassfed beef.

From 2017.

Previously on HN: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=12998395

> Asparagopsis produces a compound called Bromoform (CHBR3)

Which is an animal carcinogen according to Wikipedia:


I stopped eating meat for climate reasons; methane production from cattle being a major factor. Glad to see that there might be a solution to that problem.

until climate change starts reversing, its probably safe to continue your trend.

Bromoform kills methanogens.

interesting info about Bromoform from Wikipedia:

Bromoform is the main trihalomethane produced in beachfront salt water swimming pools with concentrations as high as 1.2 ppm (parts per million). Concentrations in freshwater pools are 1000 times lower. Occupational skin exposure limits are set at 0.5 ppm.


i wonder if any of the bromine winds up in the cow's milk or meat

Also there's no info on the nutritional uptake of the cows. Killing the methane-producing bacteria could potentially mean killing the digestive powerhouse of the animal.

It does not kill the methane-producing bacteria, it just inhibits a specific enzymatic pathway.

Dumb question. Could Bromoform be put in the existing feed?

Also wondering this. The article mentions the difficult problem of scaling up red algae farming - could the active ingredient not be synthesized commercially and added to feed that way?

edit, from Wikipedia: "The substance may be hazardous to the environment, and special attention should be given to aquatic organisms. Its volatility and environmental persistence makes bromoform's release, either as liquid or vapor, strongly inadvisable. ... Bromoform is a confirmed animal carcinogen" Although I presume the bromoform binds to the enzymes and/or otherwise reacts in the stomach, as usual there are pros and cons associated with this sort of thing

Not raising supernatural numbers of cows for murder also eliminates the problem within a few decades...which i mention because it's plausible the world is moving this way. [ For the cows, I hope so, and for things to be learned in sustainable nutrition as well. ]

Maybe it helps with heath and safety... I know, old news, but I can't resist:


Does anyone know if there is any research on WHY this algae acts in this way? Would it be possible to either synthesise the chemical compound(s) involved, once identified without having to farm it?

It's really easy to grow algae. I have to clean it out of stock tanks constantly. Usually it's green, but if I leave a tank alone long enough the red will take over. This is fresh water mixed with cow saliva and some plant matter, but presumably it would be just as easy with salt water? Chemical processes typically produce CO2, due simply to their energy requirements.

Sure, but have you tasted the milk? It really tastes off.

How could you possibly know this?

Because I am known for knowing things I cannot possibly know.

For example: Why is it that, as a rule of thumb, people that make money make it in real estate?

Why is it that all the pictures of the sun are orange but the sun is not orange?

Why exactly, is it that people prefer gas ranges to electric ranges?

Why is it that horoscopes are demonstrably false but thermodynamics is demonstrably true?

Why is it that heat rises but it's cold in the mountains?

I have the answers but you have only the questions.

I'll be the heretic then... how about you all eat less beef, easy solution to the "problem". And no, I'm not a vege-anything. Just to prove it, here's a great song by the Reverend Horton Heat, that I used to play on my radio show. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wQynViAF6Ds

Minus 1? Crimney... it's a good song. Guess I should have posted a link to fart song, eh

The score is low because it contributes nothing of value to the discussion.

Does it work on humans too? Just asking for a friend

Haha, I was thinking the same thing.... < toot >

I wonder: would there be any negative side-effects on the cows? Another way of putting it: is methane production in the gut of the cow a consequence of a useful process or is it something the cows can live without?

Another question to ponder: would seaweed farming at such scale have negative consequences?

cows can not digest the cellulose ingredient in grass. essentially they foster anaerobic bacteria in their stomach which digest the cellulose. the cows live off the bacteria and their byproducts.

there are several different microbiobial paths from cellulose to methane with stages including acetic acid, acetone and hydrogen. depending on the conditions in the cow some of these paths are prefered or not.

I do not know whether not producing methane is bad for the cow in the long run. I guess it is not, given that the farmer mentioned in the aeticel has been feeding them the algae for a longer period of time.

I wonder whether the bacteria survive in the cow stomachs when the cows are only being fed kelp, and (if they don't, what happens to the cow if it is switched back to a grass diet?).

regarding your othe question: I'm pretty sure Bromoform can be produced large scale in classical chemical plants at low cost. question is whether that, applied as a fodder additive, has the same effect.

I have some Japanese friends who have recommended seaweed as a treatment for flatulence. That they have this working at 99% in livestock is pretty amazing. If you could get sheep and cows onto this sort of program it would be a huge deal.

Honest question here. Didn't we already know this? I am nearly certain that I heard about the benefits of putting certain types of seaweed in cow feed to affect methane when I was in high school nearly 20 years ago.

Serious question, could there be any way to instead capture said methane and use it for fuel? I feel like if the farms could make a decent buck off capturing it there’d be more incentive than say paying for seaweed.

The article says that a cow produces about 100 kg of methane a year. At 0.7 kg/m^3, that's about 142 cubic meters of gas per year. Natural gas costs a few dollars per thousand cubic meters... So even without going into efficiency and the cost of capturing and purifying, it's definitely not going to be worth it.

Yes, but it seems to need a surgical insertion into one of the cows stomachs so is probably dangerous / expensive.


Fistulation surgery isn't all that dangerous or expensive. The major expense is in keeping the rumen port clean and the cow healthy and free from infection afterward. It's a significant amount of work and consumable supplies, that has to be done by a human worker, every day, for as long as the cow has the port.

Granted, a gas port should be smaller than one large enough to stick your hand through, and pull stomach contents out of, but even so, an entire herd of ported cows would not be able to pay for the additional ranch hand work necessary to keep them alive. You need a port-cleaning and health-monitoring robot, at minimum.

Interesting. I was thinking more at the building level but I suppose people don’t like animals not being allowed to go outside however.

What's the best way to investment exposure to agricultural seaweed?

Most of the largest seaweed producers are unlisted in terms of public stock exchanges, such as Dalian Kowa Foods which is China's largest producer, or Seaweed Harvest Holland in Europe.

You could always start your own backyard seaweed production business:

"Meet the new US entrepreneurs farming seaweed for food and fuel"


So this begs the mildly racist question, do Japanese people fart? Can they light their farts on fire? Maybe not if the seaweed in the diet kills off methane producing bacteria.

Ummm, humans aren't ruminants ;)

Also, cows burp (not fart) methane.

i don't have an answer to your question. but Cooks Illustrated reports that adding kelp to beans makes the beans easier to cook:


Not just cook, apparently the enzymes in kelp assist in digestion of the beans. Which also causes less farts (bean farts are due to indigestible proteins? Fibre? passing to the intestine and fermenting by the bacteria there). So I wonder if this is a similar mechanism.

That’s cool. Ty.

My kids love nori but they still fart.

How is that racist? Just being only relevant to one race doesn't make it racist.

its a stereotype. not only japanese people eat seaweed

No, stereotyping would apply some assumptions to an individual based on his group. This on the other hand is a plausible statistical claim.

Some stereotypes are based on loud minorities, but others manifest due to the it being true on a statistically meaningful scale. I think it is safe to say on average Japanese have more seaweed in their diet. So if I met a random Japanese person and assume they eat seaweed, then I am stereotyping, but it is rational and informed stereotyping, nothing rude about it.

AFAIK garlic does too. But the solution creates another problem because of higher nitrous oxide (n2o) concentrations. Which is much worse for the climate.

I'm sure that this is a dumb question, but is methane from cows a contributor to global warming? Is that the significance of this study? Thanks.

The dumbest questions begin with a disclaimer like the one used here.

Yes, methane, especially from cows and livestock, is a contributor to global warming. Other sources of methane worthy of concern include oil and gas wells (apparently they leak a lot) and other quasi-natural sources like the breakdown of plant matter in forests (often because the forest is cleared).

Methane is far more potent than CO2 but also far shorter-lived. I would argue in many ways it's far less of a concern because it doesn't interact with plant and animal life to anywhere near the extent elevated CO2 levels do.

Ok I assumed that was the case. Thanks for the clarification.

Ronald Reagan's lasting legacy is that car farts are the one thing he was actually correct about.


How is this possible though? What’s happening on the molecular level? And how can we drastically change their digestion without harming them?

Why don’t they just feed the bromoform compound responsible for the activity? Seems a lot easier than trucking seaweed all over the place.

ever heard of chloroform and its characteristics?

Now that I think about it - it seems really silly that the solution to cow methane emissions is eating less hamburgers.

It would be interesting to know /what/ it is in Asparagopsis taxiformis that has this effect

Few stories make me as happy as this one did. Thank you OP. Hopefully in the future I can enjoy a beef-steak guilt-free!

The cow methane problem is one that literally keeps me up at night. I kept thinking about my inevitable switch to chicken and missing out on a tenderloin.. and how my kids won't be able to eat like me.

I feel ya and it would make my feel a little better about my meat treats, but improving that end (pun) of the equation seems to be a smaller problem than the energy required.

> The findings, while expected, are quite sobering. Pork, chicken, dairy and eggs are equivalent within a factor of two when it came to their environmental burdens, the authors determined. But beef requires far, far more resources than any of those other protein categories. The team calculated that beef requires 28 times more land, six times more fertilizer and 11 times more water compared to those other food sources. That adds up to about five times more greenhouse gas emissions.


Impossible Burger revolution is a better solution than an incremental improvement.

Pork and chicken require less land? Could that be because they're usually kept in cages?

no, it is because their food conversion ratio is better. that anaerobic methane producing process cows are using is not very efficient.

yea it seems weird that the methane would be the only thing to keep OP up at night...

People are also trying to make meat without animals, by culturing animal tissues outside of an animal. You can see on a number of previous HN threads on this topic that a lot of animal advocacy groups have been forming a consensus about supporting these. I don't think any limits have been established on their eventual "realism" or biological similarity to tissues grown inside an animal.

See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cultured_meat for a lot of interesting ideas and references.

As that Wikipedia article mentions we would need a plant-based growth medium to get the meat to grow.

Today they are using fetal bovine serum as a growth medium, which is both expensive and it is a by-product from the dairy industry.

When a cow coming for slaughter is identified to be pregnant, the cow is slaughtered and bled, and the fetus is removed from the mother and brought into a blood collection facility. The fetus, which is kept alive alive during the following process to ensure blood quality, has a needle inserted into its beating heart. The blood is then drained until the fetus dies. The whole process takes about 5 minutes. The blood is then refined and filtered, and the resulting extract is fetal bovine serum.

Until we no longer extract fetuses, I can't see many animal advocacy groups being that positive about it.

I didn't know about this aspect; thanks for pointing it out. Do you know how plausible alternatives would be? I guess the chemistry of the serum is pretty specific and maybe challenging to replicate, as in human blood transfusions most blood products are taken from a human donor rather than synthesized.

I don't know, sorry. But I know it is an area that is currently receiving a lot of research because of how expensive the serum is.

I am a vegan and I am aware of the use of fetal bovine serum and I am all for it. Still way better than slaughtering billions of animals every year.

Until we have a plant-based growth medium I won't eat any fake meat myself though.

> Hopefully in the future I can enjoy a beef-steak guilt-free!

Good luck with that! Vegans then will "move the goalposts" and attack you for ethhical/morality reasons.

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