Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
Tasty Seaweed Reduces Cows’ Methane Emissions by 99% (goodnewsnetwork.org)
865 points by RickJWagner on Aug 16, 2019 | hide | past | favorite | 393 comments

My company is currently working to grow Asparagopsis Taxiformis, here in the US, for this purpose.

I agree with comments that we have big issues to tackle in regards to methane sinks failing, such as permafrost, and there are things to be said about people moving en masse to plant based diets – but, the future will always be a mix of tomorrow and today. Many people will still eat beef, and we need to ensure we reduce the negative effects of raising cattle as much as possible. We need a giant, mixed bag of tricks working in unison to slow the warming we have caused over the last 100 years.

Luckily, current research is showing that – not only does AT nearly eliminate methane from the bovine digestive process entirely when supplementing between half and two percent of daily diet – we are seeing early indications in research of some amazing additional benefits – improved milk production, increased immunity, improved food conversion ratio (meaning you can feed cattle less and have them pack on more protein). Studies are not finalized, but what I have heard of them sounds very, very good.

My background is in tech (founded and exited a TechStars company and have had a career in software and hardware startups) and my colleagues are in marine biology and phycology (algae science). My hope is that by approaching this problem from the perspective of a fast-iterating startup, we can get this product to market faster than the traditional routes of academic timelines and federal funding sources this industry is used to.

If you are an investor, beef serving restaurant owner, or in business related to cattle raising and finishing and would like to find out more, please email us at info+hackernews@goodalgae.com. And follow our newsletter for updates at https://goodalgae.com.


What is the feasibility of this, deploying it on a large scale?

I did some quick calculations on a napkin.

Apparently there are between 1 billion and 1.5 billion cows [0][1]. Let’s just say 1.5 Billion.

In New Zealand the beef (dry cow) vs dairy cow ratio is almost 1:1 [2], but I assume that countries like India have more dairy cows, so I just assumed that 60% percent of cows are dairy cows.

Apparently dry cows consume around 25 lb (11 kilogram) dry matter per day [3], milking cows 25kg dry matter [4].

Let’s just assume that 1% of the dry matter needs to be replaced with the algae, which is half of what the article mentions. That would mean, that we need:

(1500 Million * 0.6 * 0.01 * 25kg) + (1500 Million * 0.4 * 0.01 * 11kg) = 291 Million kilogram = 291.000 metric tons of algae per day

Just the logistics alone is major feat to pull off, put on a yearly scale the weight of these algae equals half of the trash produced in the US per year [5].

[0]: https://beef2live.com/story-world-cattle-inventory-ranking-c...

[1]: https://www.drovers.com/article/world-cattle-inventory-ranki...

[2]: https://teara.govt.nz/files/1_183_Beef_Ratios_0.pdf

[3]: http://www.thebeefsite.com/articles/3154/how-much-forage-doe...

[4]: https://albertamilk.com/ask-dairy-farmer/how-much-feed-does-...

[5]: https://www.wolframalpha.com/input/?i=291*365+million+kilogr...

The numbers I often cite are for the US market: 94.8 million head of cattle * 25 pounds dry weight * .01 = 23,700,000 pounds of AT per day or 11,850 tons.

You're right that we can break this down with more granularity between US beef cattle (31.8 million head requiring 3,975 tons AT at 25 dry weight pounds daily consumption), dairy (9.35 million head requiring 4,675 tons AT @ 50 dry weight pounds daily consumption), calves, etc. For these two markets, the total daily tonnage required is 8,650. There are cattle that don't fall into dairy or beef categories. For US cattle industry numbers and statistics, see: https://www.ncba.org/beefindustrystatistics.aspx

We should be careful we don't talk ourselves out of efforts that are good for the world simply because they're not a one-stop solution. If Good Algae can grow to address markets outside of the US, amazing, but we will start here. And I will champion those taking additional measures to combat the crisis facing our planet.

The US produces 912,358 tonnes of corn per day (or 900 million kg). I suspect corn is much easier to grow than seaweed though. Just as a perspective.


That is probably an incorrect assumption. Corn farming requires land, fresh water, and fertilizer - all very expensive. Growing seaweed requires none of those things, only ocean space and a proper farm system.

Mhm... Looking at the numbers again:

291,000 metric tons per day => ~ 106 Million metric tons per year.

In 2014 the world wide Aquatic Plants (which include ALL Macro-Algae) production was around 27 Million tons [0].

[0]: http://www.fao.org/3/a-i5555e.pdf, page 24, table 7

Current production shouldn't matter and the sea is huge - if the algae are uncomplicated to grow I don't see any reason why there should be a limit to future production.

You mean other than the fact that techniques for efficiently growing such amounts of seaweed do not exist? Of the amount produced globally today, 90% comes from China, Korea, Japan, and the Philippines and that production is all very labor intensive and done in locations and using methods that are simply not applicable to the United States.

There is a huge about of R&D needed to get any of this to scale. Some of it is already underway.

Setting aside the difficulty in growing, algae will have the advantage of a continuous growing cycle, as opposed to corn which has a full year's crop harvested in ~25 days.

Thanks for this, I tried to do the calcs but couldn't find all the numbers.

Thb I'm not particularly fazed by the large numbers, we already manage to ship 100 times this for the global herd already. The big question is the economics, if the economic benefits (milk/beef) yield are bigger than the costs it'll take off regardless. If the economics aren't there it may take a bit longer but there aren't many governments worried about sticking their oar into farming matters.

Sounds like we need to start researching the effects of eating US trash on cow methane emissions. There might be a synergy here.

it certainly seems like a farfetched bandaid for a very inefficient food source (no matter how you view it)

Definitely. We'll never harvest more than 10% of the energy we feed livestock. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trophic_level

There are plenty of things that animals can eat that are inedible to humans, or at the very least unpalatable. Tree fodder, rapeseed meal, sunflower husks, wetland reeds.

Feeding animals nothing but corn and soybean is a travesty for a number of reasons but that doesn't mean meat production as a whole needs to stop.

> Feeding animals nothing but corn and soybean is a travesty for a number of reasons but that doesn't mean meat production as a whole needs to stop.

Best estimates show that 70%+ of cows and 98%+ of all other meat comes from factory farms(CAFO's)[1], so to say "meat production as a whole needs to stop" is not that far off when almost all of it is what you would describe as "a travesty".

Good luck finding enough "Tree fodder, rapeseed meal, sunflower husks [and] wetland reeds" to make up for it. We don't have enough grazable land in the WORLD to support the kind of meat consumption in most 1st world countries[2].

1. https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1iUpRFOPmAE5IO4hO4PyS...

2. https://ourworldindata.org/agricultural-land-by-global-diets

Is one of those reasons that it is inhumane?

It's not all that inefficient for what it is. Just look at how expensive products like Beyond Meat are, and they don't even come that close in terms of taste and nutrition.

> It's not all that inefficient for what it is

I'm not even sure what that means. "for what it is"?

As I said, it is inefficient from so many different angles. Water footprint, feed-to-food conversion, environmental externalities, land usage etc. Your are taking mostly food that can be directly fed to humans and instead feeding it to another animal which is later consumed. It's inefficient by default.

> Just look at how expensive products like Beyond Meat are, and they don't even come that close in terms of taste and nutrition.

Not sure how this is relevant, but meat alternative are becoming cheaper and cheaper and will continue to due to economies of scale. Also, "the Beyond Burger generates 90% less greenhouse gas emissions, requires 46% less energy, has >99% less impact on water scarcity and 93% less impact on land use than a ¼ pound of U.S. beef."[1]

Lastly, taste is subjective, but many people are really enjoying Impossible Burgers and Beyond Meat. Also, the point isn't to make something more nutritious, the point is to make a viable alternative to meat that doesn't have all the inefficiencies mentioned above (and less killing of conscious things is great too).

1. http://css.umich.edu/publication/beyond-meats-beyond-burger-...

> Your are taking mostly food that can be directly fed to humans and instead feeding it to another animal which is later consumed. It's inefficient by default.

Beef is quite nutritious and tasty. While technically you might be able to feed people on what cows are fed, that would be a very poor living indeed. Food isn't all about efficiency, unless maybe you're living barely above subsistence.

> Not sure how this is relevant, but meat alternative are becoming cheaper and cheaper and will continue to due to economies of scale.

Perhaps, but I think it's equally likely that it'll stay an overpriced niche product, just like the stuff that came before it.

> Also, "the Beyond Burger generates 90% less greenhouse gas emissions, requires 46% less energy, has >99% less impact on water scarcity and 93% less impact on land use than a ¼ pound of U.S. beef."[1]

Yet, it's more expensive, so there clearly other inefficiences in that process. In any event, cows aren't just burgers. Those "milk alternatives" aren't really cheaper either. There's no "vegan steak".

We can put a price on greenhouse emissions. We produce energy to meet demand, not the other way around. We don't need to have cattle farming in water scarce areas. We have more than enough land. I'll stick with beef.

> Food isn't all about efficiency

This thread you have been commenting on is talking about efficiency...

> I think it's equally likely that it'll stay an overpriced niche product

You say, ignoring that the opposite is happening

> Yet, it's more expensive, so there clearly other inefficiences in that process

It's still currently expensive because of the sunk cost of R&D. Now it's just about demand and scale which are both there and growing.

Your arguments are weak. All you have is "it's more expensive" and "It's tasty". Keep your head in the sand.

> This thread you have been commenting on is talking about efficiency...

Yes, but this kind of raw input efficiency isn't the only consideration when it comes to food. There would still be plant-based products that are more efficient to grow than other plant-based products. Apples are cheaper to grow than Oranges, which is exactly what this comparison of food for livestock against food for people is.

Beef production is 100% efficient at producing beef. Milk production is 100% efficient at producing milk.

You just claim these alternatives are "more efficient", yet they are more expensive, they do not taste quite like beef, nor do they have the same nutritional profile. They're more efficient on some metrics, some of which are irrelevant to us.

> You say, ignoring that the opposite is happening

It's not clear that the opposite is happening. There's a lot of media buzz around Beyond Meat or Impossible Burger (and their IPOs). Their initial output was tiny, so naturally it can currently grow fast. This is the hype phase. We'll see how it works out in a few years.

> It's still currently expensive because of the sunk cost of R&D.

I doubt that. Those companies are in their growth phase and they're burning lots of capital. This is not the time to pay back on R&D.

It's rather that their processes are not mature, that they're simply trying to figure out their markup, and/or that they have lots of other overhead that beef producers do not have. For instance, would you not count the marketing budget as an "inefficiency"?

> Your arguments are weak.

Well, alright. I think your "efficiency" argument is weak. It's pretty much irrelevant to our economy. Just look at how cheap beef is. Shockingly cheap, in fact. It could easily tolerate price increases. Even if plant-based meat replacements were significantly cheaper, they probably wouldn't displace a lot of demand for beef. Rather, they'd displace demand for vegetarian/vegan products.

Those countries where meat is relatively more expensive, where efficiency is more important, those already have a rich cuisine based on plant-based products. They already have their own "fake meat" made out of for example Tofu. In my experience, that stuff is already superior to crappy Western products made for vegetarians.

> Beef production is 100% efficient at producing beef. Milk production is 100% efficient at producing milk.

Alright, I think there is little point in continuing this discussion. You don't seem to understand what "efficient" means and have weak, unrelated, unsubstantiated retorts for everything. I'm sure you'll always argue that beef isn't that bad/"is efficient for what it is" regardless of the reality (which is saying a lot considering beef is the worst of all the meats).

You are free to eat what you want, but at least own up to the reality of your food choices.

"You have weak arguments" isn't much of an argument either, you know.

I'm well aware of what "efficient" means. I do not disagree that shoving raw plant material down people's throats is an extremely efficient way to feed them. A slightly less efficient way would be to prepare that plant material into something more palatable. Livestock is far less efficient still, and at the other end of that "efficiency spectrum" you have something like Kobe Beef.

Yet, if I was to argue that we should all be eating cheap US beef instead of expensive Kobe beef because that is more efficient, it would be an obviously silly argument. Both products just don't play in the same league.

> beef is the worst of all the meats

In what sense? Environmentally? Perhaps. Nutritionally? Absolutely not.

If AT can do this for bovines, I wonder what the health benefits for us could be

Reducing methane emissions is not a health benefit.

But it's a proxy for inferring reduced gut distress. So it's not an unreasonable thing to wonder about.

Is it actually or is it just not liking farts and rationalizing reducing them?

I have a serious medical condition that significantly impacts the gut. Worse gas corresponds to more gut issues.

Everything I've read (or heard from other people) suggests it is not just me, that this principle generalizes.

It’s not a simple, linear relationship. People generally do better with whole foods which have higher fiber content. That tends to make more gas. Gas is the result of gut bacteria digesting fiber. Certainly too much gas can be a symptom of poor health, but so can too little.

I also do have a medical condition that impacts the gut.

It's called Crohn's Disease.

Yes, gas correlates to it feeling more severe.

That does not mean that removing the gas (by eating seaweed) is beneficial to anything but reducing gas.

It's a simple correlation causation thing. Removing an effect doesn't mean the cause is removed.

I can get gas reducing pills at my local pharmacy, I have yet to have my doctor take me off immunosupressants for- or even mention them. So I am honestly wondering if there is any evidence for this being actually beneficial for health.

If your mental models are largely rooted in a modern medical model where you just add drugs to treat the symptoms, then it's easy to assume dietary changes work basically like taking a different medication. But that's not what my mental models are rooted in and I've previously seen things that recommend seaweed for various issues.

I don't personally consume seaweed, so I don't recall the details off the top of my head. But I have reason to believe that seaweed does more than just mitigate gas production.

Dietary changes are inherently hard to track because you basically can't isolate them. If you eat 2000 calories a day and you introduce a new food, it simultaneously displaces some other food you were eating. So it inherently has confounding factors. Are you doing better because of the new good you introduced? Or because if removing some other food that you aren't even paying attention to?

Foods are also not one dimensional. So you may think it's helping because of X detail but it's really helping for an unrelated reason.

I started with taking supplements. Taking supplements allows you to isolate a single factor and learn how your body reacts to more of X thing while the rest of your diet stays the same.

It takes a lot of research to find a bioavailable supplement that is tolerated well by the person in question and contains only one ingredient. So no multivitamins allowed.

Then you start one and only one supplement at a time. You take it for a minimum of one week before making any other changes.

Once you've learned what impact specific supplements have, it eventually becomes feasible to say "I need more of X nutrient, so I'm going to eat more of x, y and z foods which are foods I know I tolerate well and have a reasonable amount of the nutrient I'm needing."

Anything that actually makes a difference will have side effects. With a nutritional or dietary approach, the amount one needs is a moving Target because as nutrient deficiencies are redressed, need eventually goes down, which people tend to not expect when coming from the mental models offered by modern medicine of "just add drugs (don't think about throughputs or systemic changes at all).

My initial assertion was only that it's reasonable to wonder if this might benefit human health. I stand by that and I feel this line of inquiry is tangential to that assertion. It's not actually some kind of rebuttal of that point.

Is your medical condition causing the gas or the other way around?

Bad gas corresponds to times when I'm more symptomatic. My condition causes serious gut dysfunction. Bad gassiness is one of many side effects when my gut is a mess.

I've spent over eighteen years pursuing dietary and lifestyle changes to mitigate my incurable condition. I have a lot less gas than I used to.

My point is, if your medical condition is causing the gas then reducing gas wouldn't help.

Reducing the symptoms probably help, and there are many conditions which have a reinforcing feedback loop

The same mechanism that reduces the gas may also fix the underlying issue.

If you fix the underlying issue, you should reduce gas.

If you have a mental model as to what is going on and you try X and it works, then you infer that maybe you are on to something, which may be the best metric you have.

The parent comment mentions also additional effects like increased immunity.

Quite the opposite - it would completely prevent me from performing my favourite party trick. (/s)

A social benefit then?

Human guts work differently compared to ruminants. I doubt seaweed will have the same effect.

It is if you're on the receiving end of the methane emissions :)


Funny, admittedly, but this is not reddit.

We're not allowed humour now?

I have to say, I'm guilty of short humourous comments on HN and I feel slightly bad about doing it.. because there's reddit for relaxed convos, and HN was more about deep chat about tech related articles / texts.

I think it's good to keep the quick fun under control.

I don't think it's a zero-sum game. Get where you're coming from, though. If the joke comments consistently got more upvotes than the serious ones, it would make threads unreadable.

That said, I think there is a happy medium which isn't entirely po-faced.

It's not that. It's a combination of the guidelines discouraging insubstantive comments -- to keep the signal-to-noise ratio high -- and genuinely good jokes being hard to do.

Most of the time, if I try to crack a joke, it gets downvoted because it's insubstantive and not all that funny. Once in a while, I've gotten a fair number of upvotes for a humorous remark, such as this one under my old handle:


IIRC, it hit high 50s for total points.

Of course you are, but it should be good.

Get over yourself. Discussions don't always need to be 100% serious.

Probably none, we aren't ruminants.

> early indications in research of some amazing additional benefits – improved milk production, increased immunity, improved food conversion ratio

What are the chances the gains here might be on the order where we could stop dosing cattle with antibiotics?

Basically none. We will continue to dose cattle with antibiotics as long as there is additional gain from doing so, regardless of how profitable cattle without antibiotics are.

Or until legislation forces big AG to stop doing it for the sake of everyone else.

So you're saying if farming antibiotic free cattle is twice as profitable as today, and farming antibiotic cattle is loss making, farmers are still going to farm antibiotic cattle? You know farms are businesses, they are motivated by money.

No, what they are saying is that cows fed with seaweed AND antibiotics are still more profitable than cows fed only with seaweed.

Antibiotics in farming is used in order to keep animals in a environment where if it wasn't for the antibiotics they would get sick.

Factory farms, or concentrated animal feeding operation as it are sometimes called, are crowded and stressful for the animal. Hygiene, temperature and ventilation are often bad. In combination this create a environment where sickness is rampant and currently antibiotics is the primary tool to keeps it functioning enough to be profitable. Seaweed is extremely unlikely to replace antibiotics in those kind of operations.

> Antibiotics in farming is used in order to keep animals in a environment where if it wasn't for the antibiotics they would get sick.

I'm not sure that is entirely accurate. Prophylactic treatment to avoid diseases is one reason for antibiotic usage, but more growth promotion is a much bigger factor.

The main reason that cattle are fed antibiotics is that a low dose of antibiotics makes them grow faster.

This use has been outlawed in the EU, but according to [1] antibiotic use for other reasons has increased since then, so it sounds like farmers only claim to use antibiotics against diseases, when they are actually only interested in the growth advantages.

[1]: https://fstjournal.org/features/antibiotics-farming

Beef cattle only spend the last few weeks of their lives on feedlots. Otherwise, they are grazing. You should visit a working ranch/farm sometime.

I thought it was also because corn-based diets increases likelihood of stomach ulcers in cows. The antibiotics fight the h.pylori bacteria which causes the ulcers.

This would be a tremendous benefit if it can be deployed at scale, which I'm sure it eventually could. HOWEVER, This solution fails to address the excessive amount of water consumption required to raise these cows. fresh, clean water is already becoming a major global crisis. The simplest and most effective solution to ensuring our survival as a species remains switching to a plant-based diet. Too many people adopt a cow-first mentality when we should be adopting a humanity-first mentality. The future is Vegan!

There is no evidence of a fresh water shortage. We had the wettest year in 125 years in the U.S. this year. Where is this coming from? Water usage is a local issue, not a global one. Certain local communities have to watch water usage depending on rainfall. Certain ones do not. Either way, cows drink water and pee water. Water goes through the same cycle it has for billions of years. The U.S. used to have a wild bison population as great as the present cattle population. Same digestive system. Beef is one of the healthiest foods on the planet, and we evolved to eat meat, and have been eating it for 2.5 million years. I'm all about sustainable agriculture. I'm not all about faddish diets and eco-fascism.

> There is no evidence of a fresh water shortage.

The UN disagrees. [1]

> We had the wettest year in 125 years in the U.S. this year.

Surely you're not using a one time event to argue against the scientific consensus of climate change?

> Beef is one of the healthiest foods on the planet, and we evolved to eat meat, and have been eating it for 2.5 million years.

What does this have to do with the water consumption used in raising cows?

[1] - https://www.unwater.org/water-facts/climate-change/

Surely you're not arguing that the amount of water on the planet has decreased? Or that global annual rainfall has reduced?

EPA shows that annual precipitation has consistently increased over the past century, so the water scare is a bad play:


> Surely you're not arguing that the amount of water on the planet has decreased? Or that global annual rainfall has reduced?

No, I'm arguing that you are conflating precipitation with water accessibility.

Are you saying there's a different baseline metric we could be using? If we're going to be making climate-change related arguments about water, we need a climate-based metric to show that it's climate change causing water accessibility issues.

Without such a metric, then it's easier to show that local political issues are what's causing these issues.

The overall amount of water on the planet and the annual rainfall isn't the same thing as water availability.

> Surely you're not using a one time event to argue against the scientific consensus of climate change?

"But it's cold in my office, global warming debunked!"

But free roaming bison drinking water is different than cows in CAFOs where large amounts of waters are heavily polluted. Which sounds also like a local problem to me but still is a big problem to some comunities.

Water is only an energy problem. The world has more water than we'd never know what to do with, the issue is taking the salt out of it. But that is "merely" an energy issue due to cost, as soon as we have cheap solar, the problem is solved, and in the meantime, we pay more, but we won't all die of thirst on big blue.

Since when should our diet be based on environmental concerns and not nutritional value? Feeding people an incomplete diet sounds like a lousy way to prevent climate catastrophe.

What's the mechanism behind methane reduction?

The mechanism is mostly understood, but not perfectly. Most people know that a cow has multiple stomachs. The second stomach is called a rumen. A cow chews it's cud (essentially big mashes of grass and grain, which a stomach cannot digest). This cud is passed through the first stomach and into the rumen, which contains beneficial, digestive bacteria. The bacteria in the rumen essentially ferment the cud and make compounds which can be digested in the subsequent stomaches. Unfortunately, methane is a natural byproduct of this process.

AT and a number of other algae contain very low amounts of a compound called bromoform. Bromoform in high amounts is toxic, but it's believed that bromoform in these trace amounts changes the chemical reaction being undertaken within the rumen such that methane is no longer a product. The result is a more efficient digestive process, essentially lending energy back to the cow. Easier digestion for cows seems to equal better health and immunity, increased length of heat, increased food conversion ratios and perhaps just happier cows. There is a possibility of interaction with additional trace nutrients and compounds in the algae as well, and this is being researched.

Something to note is that AT is not the only algae that reduces methane production in cattle. It is just, by far, the most efficient. And algae is not the only product which decreases methane in cattle, as well. Companies are marketing probiotics and small molecule methane inhibitors which do similar jobs, but again, AT is nearly twice as effective.

How well do people understand the difference between modern cow diets and the diets of say aurochs? What other nutrients are missing from modern feedlots?

This is a great question.

Very interesting. This is probably not applicable in areas with melting permafrost, right? Aren't there also bacteria basically digesting ancient and previously frozen organic matter?

I think the methane is already there (having been produced a long time ago), just under ground. I could be mistaken. But even then I'm not sure how those algae would help ...

There seems to be two sources of "frozen" methane. The one you're referring to is on the ground of the oceans kind of trapped in ice. The other one is organic matter inside permafrost on land. When this warms bacteria become active and decompose the organic matter releasing methane.

It was only a naive relation I saw between the bacteria inside the cows stomach and the one in the permafrost ;-)

TIL, thanks.

What about creating bromoform directly in a lab? Is that possible? If so, then direct application to the feed wouldnt require en massed sea farming.

Pretty trivial to do at both lab and industrial scales. I've no knowledge of the biology, but if bromoform is the active ingredient it could probably be produced at scale for on the order of a few thousand dollars per tonne(governed primarily by Br2 pricing[0]) then fairly easily doped into pellets or feed.

[0] Maybe less using the haloform reaction. I'm not intimately familiar with the best-industrial manufacturing methods.

In a paper on this topic this was tested and pure bromoform doesn't have the same effect, the authors speculate that is due to delayed release from the seaweed structures.

Mind dropping that link?


Looks like I slightly misremembered. They write that they don't observe a decline of inhibition compared to a previous paper using pure bromoform but don't speculate on the reason. Maybe the speculation was in commentary on that paper.

This suggests that the mechanism is not totally understood, which is easy to understand. It could require either tertiary agents in the seaweed/gut microbiome interactions..

I was reading about it on wikipedia, it used to be produced in large quantities.

Sigma Aldrich sells a kilo of pure bromoform for about $300. I’m sure bulk bromoform is much cheaper.

So, essentially they are poisoning the cows ever so slightly?

In the sense that humans eating capsaicin are poisoning themselves slightly; and not the sense in which humans drinking alcohol are poisoning themselves slightly. It’s such a different order of magnitude that there’s a qualitative, not just quantitative, change in the body’s response.

Hmmkay, I was just wondering what the downsides are. After all, that sounds too good to be true.

this is super cool. do you think the primary demand driver for your sales will be 1) gov't mandates, or 2) cattle farmers wanting to differentiate their meat to eco-conscious customers / retailers? just curious about how you see the market.

> we are seeing early indications in research of some amazing additional benefits – improved milk production, increased immunity, improved food conversion ratio (meaning you can feed cattle less and have them pack on more protein)

These "additional benefits" are all things that would increase profit - reduced loss of output from sickness; increased production; reduced feed consumption.

If the seaweed is cheap enough, it could be worth it for farmers to use without additional incentives. Though, they would also get green cred "for free."

Edit: fix typos

> not only does AT nearly eliminate methane from the bovine digestive process entirely when supplementing between half and two percent of daily diet – we are seeing early indications in research of some amazing additional benefits – improved milk production, increased immunity, improved food conversion ratio

Does this not rather imply that the cows are nutritionally deficient of something that this seaweed provides? Perhaps something in their ancestral environment?

BTW, I find the wording on your landing page to be a bit awkward and the font used to be a difficult read as well.

The '+' directive in the email address: do you use business Gmail, or does another email system use it similarly?

+ in email works the same way since sendmail

where does the methane go instead? there must be some trade off somewhere?

If you put out are fire, where does the smoke go instead?

The methane was produced by a bacteria, it is never produced to go anywhere if you get rid of the bacteria. The trade off might be poorer digestive efficiency if the cow relies on this bacteria to break down some common molecule. Although it could just as easily be the case that the bacteria was introducing inefficiencies.

> The trade off might be poorer digestive efficiency if the cow relies on this bacteria to break down some common molecule.

We drifted a little, but the top-level comment of this same thread started out to suggest that if any, the effect might even be positive for the cow.

From the article: "When added to cow feed at less than 2% of the dry matter, this particular seaweed completely knocks out methane production. It contains chemicals that reduce the microbes in the cows’ stomachs that cause them to burp when they eat grass."

It is simply not produced. Methane is CH4. The carbon goes into CO2 instead (which is bad, but not as bad for the environment as methane).

Seems like just growing seaweed won't be enough though. You'd have to grow it _in close proximity to the cows_, otherwise there are other greenhouse gases that will be emitted before the cows can eat it. It's also unclear to me what this means in terms of water consumption, and therefore sustainability. I'd be curious to hear how (if at all) these issues could be addressed.

An additional thing to consider is that not all greenhouse gases are created equal. You can find any number of articles to cite as source that methane is 20 to 30 times worse for the atmosphere in causing warming than carbon dioxide.


I've run the numbers and it looks like all cattle on earth emit something like 150MT of methane per year. Multiplied by 20 (to get CO2 equivalent), that's 3GT. That's about 8% of the yearly total CO2 emissions (37GT). Certainly not negligible, but not earth shattering either. For comparison, per-capita CO2 emissions in the US are 16.5 metric tons. Per cow methane emissions are about 100kg per year or 2-3 tons in CO2 equivalent.

In fact, that is a truly massive amount of emissions for something which could be completely eliminated through a change to 2% of the cows diet.

This is about as big of a win, with about the highest ROI, you could possibly hope for.

If ever there were a CO2 cap and trade, this seaweed, if it works as claimed, would be tremendously profitable.

And you think transporting the seaweed is a problem? The total CO2 saved by Tesla vehicles so far is 3.5 million tons. Eliminating cows emissions would be equivalent to 800x that... How do you think shipping cars around the world compares to shipping seaweed from the coast?

8% for the sake of what amounts to a flavour in your mouth is pretty earth shattering.

Consider: would you spend 8% of your entire financial budget on beef? On an income of $30K, say, you'd spend $2400 on beef, ignoring all other food and other expenses?

I'd even flip it around - take a random person off the street, in the UK, say, and tell them you'll give them 2 grand a year to stop eating beef. How many people do you think would take you up on that who don't even care about the environment?

It's stark raving bonkers.

I'd be spending about $15/day on beef at that rate on my salary, which isn't very far off from my fast food habits.

I'm a bit confused by this - are you saying that it'd end up being 100% of what you eat, or that it's actually a reasonable estimate of your beef consumption?

(as an aside - $15 on fast food a day! for your sake I hope it's relatively healthy stuff!)

I haven't been to the grocery store much lately, and a Wendy's and McDonald's are within bicycling distance. I'll go to them once or twice a day often nowadays. When I first moved out, eating out so much would have felt like an intolerable budget failure, but I've found myself caring less and less over time.

I try to stick to just the burgers, not soda or fries often. The jalapeno bacon fries at Wendy's have been an exception though.

I feel like it's not really that unhealthy considering fat's actually not bad for you and dietary cholesterol doesn't become blood cholesterol, which was surprisingly still good for me despite this diet last it was tested. Results vary depending on the genetic lottery.

You should probably aim for one visit to Wendy's or McD's a week... or one a month... or one a quarter. What you're doing now is like rationalizing vodka over beer.

This is wrong. A burger is bread, meat and vegetables, maybe with some cheese or another meat. Between carbohydrates, protein and some vegetables an all burger diet is unlikely to lead to any noticeable health effects compared to a normal Western diet. Fries are vastly worse for you than burgers or pizza, whether you’re looking at macronutrients alone or tracking vitamins and minerals as well.


> A US woman claims to have lost 33 pounds by eating nothing but McDonald's for 90 days.

> Merab Morgan, of Henderson, North Carolina, began her diet because she found the Super Size Me film insulting.

> In the documentary, film maker Morgan Spurlock put on 25lbs after eating excusively at McDonald's for just one month.

> Ms Morgan, 35, memorised the calories in almost every menu item, and limits herself to 1,400 calories a day, reports the Detroit Free Press.

> "It's kind of like the poor man's diet," said Morgan, who has tried Weight Watchers and Atkins but failed because of the time and money those plans required.

A burger doesn't have enough veg for a healthy diet, I'd be amazed if its better than the average western diet.

I'm thinking a generic McDonalds burger here with a wilted piece of lettuce, a slice of tomato and some gherkins. You could probably construct a healthy veg burger, I have no idea where you'd buy one. Something like subway seems like a better bet.

I didn’t say it was better, I doubt it would be worse. You vastly overestimate how much variety, or vegetables, are necessary to maintain health. The following are nutritionally complete; if you eat them you will not get any deficiency diseases, potatoes and milk, rice and beans, peanut butter and bread. Note that they all include a source of carbs and protein, like burgers. Hell, as long as you eat fatty meat you can eat nothing but meat with no ill effects on health. Over the course of a day you’d get enough lettuce and tomato to stave off deficiency diseases, and that neglects ketchup, otherwise known as concentrated tomato.

The problem of a western diet isnt one of deficiencies though. No doubt if you have enough burgers you'd get enough nutrients but the amount of meat and carbs would be massive.

This [1] suggests vitamin C would be the big problem for a Big Mac (1% RDA) followed by vitamin A (4% RDA). 100 burgers a day sounds quite hard to stomach, so the question becomes how bad the western diet is.

[1] https://www.nutritionvalue.org/McDONALD%27S%2C_BIG_MAC_nutri...

Well, good luck.

I'd recommend you go and buy some real food. Regardless of macros, McDonalds is full of garbage, especially in the US.

If you are going to eat out all the time, try to make it places that use whole foods like real chicken breast in their burgers. At least you're not getting all the processing guff that ends up in processed meat blends. Also give Japanese, Korean or Thai cuisines a go. You can eat pretty healthy and still eat out constantly with a lot of East/South East Asian cuisines.

What is the "guff" that goes into a chain fast food burger?

I spend about 15-20% of my salary on food.Probably a little bit less than half of it goes towards buying meat, including beaf. So,yes,I would.Do I really need to consume that much meat? Well, that's a different questions,but most likely not.

>> you'll give them 2 grand a year to stop eating beef

I think the vast majority of people would turn down your offer. There's too little enjoyment in life as it is. Life without steaks and beer is not worth living for most people.

I bet this is unfortunately, uncomfortably true. There are major behavioral changes needed that can't be left to incentives or voluntary changes when survival is at stake. ICEs, meat agriculture, airline travel, unconfined clinker manufacturing and fossil fuel extraction must end if we're to survive this climate emergency. In addition, Be/CCS must happen, such as ferrous ocean seeding and seaweed extraction for contained burning with underground carbon emissions sequestration. Mexico is already dealing with an incredible volume of seaweed arriving daily on prime tourist beaches... which would be perfect for CCS if we were to burn it to generate power, reduce its volume and bury captured emissions very deep.

>> There are major behavioral changes needed that can't be left to incentives or voluntary changes when survival is at stake.

This was tried several times in different contexts (prohibition, war on drugs, etc), and it fails every time.

Make alternatives appealing and people will run to them in droves. That is the only feasible path forward if you're hoping any change will be adopted by a large majority of people.

Very few people will give up steaks or Hawaii vacations when all is said and done, unless you offer them a better alternative.

What's ICE, CCS, Be?

Internal Combustion Engine, cars.

Bio-Energy with Carbon Capture and Sequestration, most common type I've seen is burning wood or other biomass for energy, capturing the CO2 and pumping it underground so that it doesn't cause warming in the atmosphere.

We can afford steak a couple of times a year, but minced beef (which I think is what's called ground beef in USA) is a major source of protein for us.

Any method in scale of over 1% impact is earth shattering, as we need just 100 such things to save the world. Even 0.1% “market share” target would be awesome. It is a complex problem and it is resolvable by hudreds, maybe thousands small remedies, not one big bang.

I get this a lot at work too, especially around the subject of optimization. If we get into a long enough conversation about it I'll tend to bring this up as one of my 'secret weapons' that shouldn't be a fucking secret.

If you are making a budget, be it for CO2 emissions or network bandwidth or CPU seconds, it doesn't really matter what percent of your current spending each line item represents. It matters what percent of your goal it represents.

For instance, if you have a car that's too expensive for you, or you're eating out too much, it's great that you identified those problems and are addressing them, but at the end of the day no % of gain in those areas is going to make up for the fact that your house is 60% of your income.

So if we have to cut our emissions by 50% to sustain our existence, those cow burps are 16% of the budget, not 8%. For steaks and cheeseburgers, that's way too big.

If you go in trying to claim you don't have a budget, the same math ends up happening, with different words, and in slow motion. Reducing one element increases the fraction of everything that remains. 1% now may be 3% later, and harder to get to because you've already done work in that area and who wants to go in again for a 1% improvement?

True. Counterintuitively to some, 10 times 5% improvement is 63% improvement overall, not 50%, and 8% improvement on top of 50% improvement is 62% total, not 58%.

That said, 50% reduction is only doable with nuclear energy. Environmentalists who refuse to even discuss it (which, anecdotally, is most of them) aren't really environmentalists at all. They're the PR wing of the "renewables" lobby.

There's a lot of bad faith on both sides there.

The embodied carbon footprint of just the concrete for a conventional nuclear plant is truly breathtaking.

And there are designs that use bodies of water for cooling and cause thermal pollution problems. Clinton power plant, for example, made the lake unfit for recreation due to an amoeba that causes encephalitis. The locals tried for decades to block that getting built and it was a huge case of 'I told you so.'

Would the locals be OK with a gigantic coal or gas power plant nearby? One with equivalent output? That's (on a macro scale) the real question here. If we are to believe the world is going to pass the point of no return in "12 years", I'd say making a lake unsuitable for recreation ranks pretty low on the list of priorities.

>>Certainly not negligible, but not earth shattering either.

The irony is that this complex compound problem is exactly the kind of problem that tricks human thinking. We are really bad at instinctively comprehending the compounding of many small factors. Many serious industrial accidents like the Three Mile Island one did not ensue from one big error (as we would think) but a compounding of a lot of small bad things that just happened together.

There's not a direct multiple to get the CO2 equivalent. Methane is 100 times worse, but is slowly removed from the atmosphere by natural processes.

The 20 year multiple is commonly stated as 75, which is the average value of the curve that starts out at 100 and decays away with time. So it's 30% of our impact on that timeline.

Have a look at the numbers e.g. on drowdown.org to put the 8% in perspective.

Methane isn't stable in the atmosphere. It eventually converts to CO2 and H2O (within 10 years of emission). It's also an extremely miniscule portion of the Earth's atmosphere, at 1.7 parts per million. It is a negligible factor in global warming.

EDIT: Methane is .00017% of the Earth's atmosphere. It cannot be a major factor in retaining heat in the Earth's atmosphere, even though it may be 20 times more effective than wator vapor at retaining heat, it exists in such low concentrations that it can't have a significant effect. To be clear, wator vapor is up to 4% of the atmosphere at any time, so it exists in concentrations 20,000 times greater than Methane.


EDIT 2: it doesn't matter how good methane is at retaining heat if it exists in the parts per billion range...it's negligible. It would be equivalent to eating a single additional calorie a day in your 2000 calorie diet. It would not cause you to gain weight. Equivalently, if you exercise 1.8 more seconds a day than you usually do, you're not going to gain more muscle or burn more fat.

EDIT 3: https://cdiac.ess-dive.lbl.gov/trends/atm_meth/ice_core_meth... ice cores showing variable methane rates over the last 800K years, a time in which we've swing in and out of ice ages several times over.

Also, humans killed off megafauna much larger than cows and taking up much more biomass towards the end of the Paleolithic era, in a time when the climate was rapidly warming. Despite plunging populations of megafauna and their supposedly toxic digestive systems, the climate continued to warm by 8 degrees around 12000 years BP, well before we discovered fossil fuels. https://royalsocietypublishing.org/doi/full/10.1098/rspb.201...

This is not how climate balance works.

There used to be a relatively stable equilibrium in the climate. There have always, and will always, be many mechanisms contributing to the overall total radiative forcing.

We can’t reduce how much water vapor is in the atmosphere very easily. But methane, we can.

It doesn’t matter that methane has low partial pressure. What matters is the total radiative forcing, and every molecule of uncombusted methane has a very high radiative forcing in the atmosphere.

It doesn't matter if it has a strong effect at the molecular level if it exists in miniscule quantities 4 orders of magnitude less than water vapor while not trapping any part of the light spectrum that is not already captured by H2O and CO2. It has negligible, near zero effect at present. Sorry, if you factor the 20x factor for methane heat retention times .00017 it's the equivalent of increasing the amount of water vapor from 4% to 4.004% of the Earth's atmosphere. It is negligible no matter which way you look at it. If a .004% difference in humidity made a dramatic effect on heat retention you'd feel it.

Well, here's an analogy: If you have $1000 salary and $900 of fixed expenses (+ $100 of disposable income), then a reduction of just 10% in your salary reduces your disposable income by 100%. A reduction of 20% in your salary puts you deep into the red and will eventually make you homeless.

Climate is like your budget. There's a lot of factors flowing into it, and even a very small change (e.g. 0.1% additional water vapor) can flip the sign on the total balance. Sorry, but your argument about the magnitude of the problem is just wrong.

That's a bad analogy because the climate is not a single variable, number one. Two, your percentages are off by orders of magnitude with regards to Methane. Methane, as I said above, is 0.00017% of the earth's atmosphere. Even if it is 20 times more effective at retaining heat than Water Vapor (4% of earth's atmosphere), it's the equivalent of increasing your fixed expenses by .004%, or 4 cents by your $1000 example. 4 cents is negligible. No accountant would even bother listing it.

Water vapor is by far the biggest green house gas

This is true but not very informative. Each greenhouse gas absorbs heat at different wavelengths, with no single gas covering the spectrum. Adding CO2 or methane increases heat absorption, even in air that's saturated with water vapor.

Even if the seaweed were shipped in trucks over distance you'd likely still have a large net benefit as only a small amount of seaweed needs to be added to the cattle's diet in order to prevent methane emissions.

Doesn't this seaweed grow in the sea? As far as I understand, the main water concerns as relate to cows, are about freshwater for growing fodder.

This seaweed does grow in the sea, obviously, however there isn't nearly enough of it in the sea to provide for the US (or worldwide, for that matter) cattle market.

Further, this particular seaweed is presently undomesticated – which means that of the various types of algal cultivation methods (rope culture, tumble culture, etc) no one has quite gotten down the best means of getting stable growth out of the strain. This is what we are working to do.

I meant that adding seaweed to a cow's diet seems unlikely to increase the demand on our limited fresh water supply. AFAIK, there's no risk in running out of seawater.

If you grow it in the sea, you're creating the transportation problem the poster was complaining about.

Sure, but that only leads to a fresh water problem if the chosen "solution" to the transportation problem is to grow seaweed inland.

From the article: "When added to cow feed at less than 2% of the dry matter, this particular seaweed completely knocks out methane production.".

The "Transportation problem" can easily be overstated. If we assume AT is grown offshore to avoid the well-recognized conflicts of near-shore, then harvested material needs to get to shore for some form of processing and subsequent shipping to where the cows are. Given the super efficient nature of shipping goods over water (at least at low speed) at least the water portion of that route would be of little concern. Technologies are under development specifically for this purpose.

A bigger problem may be where AT can be farmed, since it is not native to US waters (except Hawaii) and permitting agencies are understandably strict about introductions.

We aim to grow close to consumption.

From your comment mentioning this seaweed not being domesticated, I'm wondering what the development process looks like.

Are you starting by trying to grow undomesticated seaweed in a completely artificial setting, is the first step to domesticate the seaweed in the sea, something else?

There are many planet saving discoveries like these. There's also a catch, which is why the planet hasn't been saved yet.

> “If we’re able to work out how to scale up the seaweed to such a level to that can feed all of the cows and the sheep and the goats around the world, then it’s going to have a huge impact on the climate;

And there you go. That's the hard part that you cannot just hand-wave away.

You also have to wonder what the impact of growing all this seaweed (or harvesting it) to feed the planet's bovine population will be. In the end, the problem is due to the massive scale of human consumption on this planet. The mitigation might be just as bad when you consider the scale at which you have to produce the 'better' solution.

From an environmental perspective, it's easier to directly consume fruits, vegetables and nuts yourself, rather than have an animal do the same, then eat the animal. That doesn't address the human appetite for animal proteins, but there is beyond meat.

Perhaps one step further is to bypass even the plants and produce protein directly from CO2!


> It's a high-protein, flour-like ingredient that contains 50 percent protein content, 5–10 percent fat, and 20–25 percent carbs.


> Protein poisoning was first noted as a consequence of eating rabbit meat exclusively, hence the term, "rabbit starvation". Rabbit meat is very lean; commercial rabbit meat has 50–100 g dissectable fat per 2 kg (live weight). Based on a carcass yield of 60%, rabbit meat is around 8.3% fat

Ew. You're not supposed to just eat this. It's a protein replacement. Still eat your fruits and veggies and everything else.

Wow, that sounds nuts and awesome at the same time. :) Thanks for the link!

You can not grow enough fruits, vegetables and nuts to feed the human population without severe deforestation. Also, agriculture uses up pretty much most of the obtainable drinkable water.

A large fraction of "agriculture" goes to feeding livestock, inefficiently. Some land is used for animal feed that is not usable for crops people would eat, but the conversion ratio for a lot of it would be better if we grew food for ourselves directly.

Feed is an efficient way of transferring water from wet places to dry places.

The UN report [1] says that if the world population switches to a fully plant-based diet by 2050, accounting for the expected growth in population, we would actually use less land and less water as we do now. So we could in terms of land and water use. Or do you mean some other reason why this would be impossible?

[1] https://www.ipcc.ch/site/assets/uploads/2019/08/4.-SPM_Appro...

I'm also sceptical that the recently proposed diets of fruits, vegetables and nuts actually work out. AFAICT it's an outstanding problem in nutrition science concerning how many of the calories in nuts that humans are able to digest. And yet it seems like the proposed diets just assume "all calories are equal". I've seen reports from journalists who have tried following those diets saying they were constantly hungry.

> I've seen reports from journalists who have tried following those diets saying they were constantly hungry.

This is the inherent problem of journalism - they need sensational results, otherwise the majority of folks wouldn't be bothered to read their journalism.

My 2 cents on this topic: I'm 10+ years vegan and everything is good, it's just no clickbait-worthy story...

Oh, I'm not saying you can't live as a vegan. But the criticism of these diets is they prescribe X grams of this, Y grams of that, and use those numbers to compute a global environmental impact. If the X and Y are both underestimates compared to what an adult needs, then so is the impact.

We tend to count calories in foods via combustion of their components then adding the average caloric content of each gram of fat (9kcal/g), protein (4), alcohol (7), and non-fiber carbohydrate (4) in the average serving size of that food. Keep in mind that US food calories on labels are equivalent to a kilocalorie.

Last I checked, combustion was not one of the stages of digestion in the human digestive tract. I'm not a nutrition researcher, but it's always seemed intuitive to me that different compounds behave differently in a complex, gradual chemical system even if they behave similarly in a simple, rapid high-energy reaction. This is already acknowledged in the fact that dietary fiber is known to be mostly excreted and so isn't counted along with other carbohydrates.

This story is much about a small change by proportion changing several aspects of how digestion works in a mammalian digestive tract, including how efficiently the energy is taken up from other parts of the diet. Now in vitro is not in vivo and cattle aren't humans. But I think we're still far from settled on all calories being the same, and more evidence is building for the opposite conclusion. There are even multiple cases of fecal transplants leading to weight gain or weight loss, with the recipient's digestion suddenly resembling that of the donor causing body weight changes.



Can you sustainably feed all of humanity by feeding cattle from all the world's grasses? I don't understand your position. What's the better alternative to a more plant-focused diet?

Why not rabbit? It's a much leaner meat, takes less space, and they breed much faster.

1. No. 2. Insects.

Also 3. Less people.

Hopefully beyond meat and similar companies are able to continue to drive forward their research. I had a Beyond Burger for the first time recently and it was unsettling. The flavor was beef-like but the texture was wrong.

I will happily eat either a beef burger or a veggie burger but the Beyond Burger is in the uncanny valley right now.

Try impossible burger I hear it’s way better

Agree, I would rather a nicely flavoured vege pattie than a fake meat one.

No, it’s not. Most of the places where nuts are grown in industrial scale are water challenged.

Animal agriculture is unsustainable at the scale we operate in today in the United States. Meat doesn’t equal feedlot, and pastured ruminant agriculture helps sustain the land.

> pastured ruminant agriculture helps sustain the land.

That totally depends on which land we're talking about. In a lot of places, forest was cut down to create the pasture, and so grazing to "sustain the land" is perhaps misguided.

That still leaves fruits and vegetables, which proportionally compose much more of a diet than nuts.

Yes, but I imagine the OP included nuts in the list because of their protein and fat - you don't find much of either in fruit and veg, with a few exceptions (avocado, soy beans).

That's an interesting way to put it into words. In paper sounds like a really unefficient pipeline (vegetables -> animals -> humans).

Thanks for that, made me reflect on how stupid it sounds but how common it is.

It's not really stupid, the idea is cows eat plant matter that humans can't eat. Cellulose mainly from grass and other plants.

They aren't eating the same plants that you eat.

That works up to a certain point, since the production is limited by the area of naturally occurring grasslands. When all the grassland is used, forests are cleared. Today, grazing is responsible for 80% of all deforestation in the Amazon [1].

[1] https://wwf.panda.org/knowledge_hub/where_we_work/amazon/ama...

> They aren't eating the same plants that you eat.

Humans don't eat corn and soy? Because that's what is fed to industrially raised beef cattle.

Cows are much better at extracting nutrients from, say, grass than humans are.

In places where nuts, vegetables, fruits aren't available, meat may be a more environmentally friendly choice.

But almost nobody is eating pasture-raised meat, though the industrial meat complex loves that you think that or are pointing it out as if that's how beef is made.

The US farming methods (grainfed, feed lots, etc) are very different from what we do in New Zealand.

In New Zealand every farmer I've ever met (and I've met many) let their cattle feed on fresh pasture almost entirely. We are blessed with lots of land per person, and lots of rainfall, perfect for growing grass. In the dry part of summer or the cold part of winter when fresh pasture isn't growing fast enough, they supplement with hay and silage (both produced from fresh pasture that is typically harvested at the beginning of summer).

But I know that outside of my own experience, other things are occasionally fed such as waste products from food processing, brewing, etc. And I know that when you sell animals you can legally tick "grass fed" as long as the animal has had access to pasture, regardless of what percentage of their diet actually came from that pasture. So it is possible that some cattle from NZ have eaten mainly non-grass foods, but in practice I've never actually seen that happen.

As for seaweed, we have a lot of coastline so we could utilize this strategy more effectively than the US could.

If you travel through Austria you will find herds of cattle on every pasture cutting the grass instead of machines. From what I've heard cattle farming in the US is different.

Yeah, but farming in general is different in Austria, just look at the rates of e.g. cage eggs in the US, where 95% are caged. Plus even in Austria you have to watch out, a lot of the cheaper meat is from large German farms with similar conditions.

I asked a small town butcher in Scotland if his beef was grass-fed and got seriously laughed at. Then he sold me some damn good steaks.

Because it was, or because it wasn't?

I mean, I'd guess it was, but equally it could be "why do you care, it tastes good", so ...?

It’s was A) “that’s what cows eat”

> Cows are much better at extracting nutrients from, say, grass than humans are.

That's because we human cannot digest grass due to the lack of the proper mictobiote, but most cows in the modern world aren't fed with grass anymore but instead with soy, corn or other kind of high-nutrients food (for which we human are totally equiped to eat).

That just means the inefficiency is in the feed used and the farming practices, not in the animal.

Not really: having an animal in between makes you waste a lot of energy (because the animal only spend a fraction of this energy to build muscles, and the rest is just burned away to sustain its metabolism).

You can take the problem the other way around: the limiting factor is land, and if you have 1 square kilometers of (somewhat fertile) land, you will feed many more humans if you grow potatoes, wheat or rice on the land than if you feed a cow on this land (whether you fees the cow directly with grass or grow corn or soy on it to feed your cows).

It's easier to consume those things... until winter arrives. Unless you support the massively carbon intensive process of shipping ~80% of each hemisphere's food supply to the other during winter, this isn't viable. Even if that is acceptable, it isn't sustainable.

Perfect is the enemy of good. Should we try to eat local? Absolutely. Eating seasonally is one simple way to do reduce the carbon footprint of your diet [0]. But getting momentum for the right direction -- which is decreased animal protein consumption, is absolutely the right step. It takes much more energy to raise livestock than it is to feed directly from the land.

Also, shipping doesn't have to be so carbon intensive. Renewable energy has a lot way to go with plenty of options: wind, solar, hydro, geo, nuclear.

[0]: https://www.seasonalfoodguide.org/why-eat-seasonally

Shipping food that doesn’t need to be refrigerated or airlifted really has a minuscule carbon footprint.

Chopping down and burning rainforest carbon sinks to plant food crops, now that’s where the real problem is.

To add to what the sibiling commenters had said. I was born in the village in part of the world where there are strong 4 seasons. So winters are full (less lately) of snow and bellow 0 celsius. People here store large veraety of vegetables over the winter. Potatoes, pumpkins, onions, garlics and others are stored as is as I remember. Other which could not be stored for long raw are fermented and kept in glass jars, it is called ‘turšija’ here :) Then there are grains and legumes and beans and dried stuff and you can easily thrive on localy sourced food even during winter.

That's only because people insist on eating the same food all year. There are plenty of vegetables that grow and harvest in the colder months. If we ate summer vegetables in the summer and winter vegetables in the winter we wouldn't need to ship food around so much.

Kale is a traditional food at Christmas in Sweden. I was surprised when I learned that it can survive in the winter, and that you harvest it by brushing away the snow. Snow even provides an insulating layer that protects the kale.

But doesn't the animal save you time. The animal essentially consumes these things for you so you don't have to.

Humans cannot get or synthesize all of the amino acids from a plant diet.. we need animals or chemistry.

That's not true for most people. You just need to eat a mix of vegetables that provide the "essential" amino acids. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Essential_amino_acid E.g. Mexican corn and beans, Japanese rice and soybeans, or Cajun red beans and rice. You might need a Vitamin B12 supplement to help stitch all those together but the amino acids you need are 100% available from plants.

Quinoa, a plant, produces all essential proteins to humans. It is known as a "complete protein" food source [0].

[0]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Complete_protein

Algae provide all the essential proteins [1].

[1] https://www.antenna.ch/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/AspectNut_...

True that that's a non-trivial problem, but seaweed farming is actually something that we could massively scale up. With vertical farms, a ton (metaphorically speaking; more than that literally) of food can be grown in a small surface area of ocean. Would be much more efficient for feeding livestock than relying on farmland that could be growing human food. (Although as an aside I'm personally in favour of a decent amount of natural grazing space and time for farmed animals, so I'd like to see a balance.)

Why not have the herd on a surface barge and have an automated system pull seaweed up a conveyor belt to feed them? This would free up the land acreage for human use!

OK, that's 2% of the cows' food intake taken care of. How are you going to supply the other 98% to them, if you have them on a barge, surrounded by water?

Deliver hay by air bale.

It’s a big of cosmic irony that cows will be eating what so called sea-cows evolved to eat by way of their natural environment.

The obviously this messes with cows’ gut bacteria. Wonder if it has any significant effects on cows or is it better all around?

Scaling is a pretty common objection in this kind of articles but I have a hard time understanding the reasoning for it. Scaling is always an issue regardless of what the new technology is so the question is then if there is specific reasons to doubt that scaling can not be solved.

To compare two different tactics to reduce global warming, electric cars and seaweed for cows. It sound as a much easier job to grow seaweed compared to the electrification of the transport sector by scaling up electric engines and battery production, and we (as a human species) are pretty sure the later will happen regardless because we can't continue to burn fossil fuels.

It's not that scaling is an objection, it's that scaling is a barrier.

Supply chains today tend to depend on things we already know how to and are actively mass producing. To add a new paradigm-shifting stage in the chain, it needs to grow to sufficient scale, which requires funding and R&D, and the path there isn't always clear. In other words, it's not so much that we can't get there, so much as we don't know how.

If there was a profit motive, and it wasn't free to emit greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere, I bet we would figure it out.

It’s simple really. After global warming causes sea levels to rise, the cows will be underwater anyway, they can just find their own seaweed to eat.

Problem solved!

They’ll just become sea cows, obviously.

Hopefully we'll be beyond meat at that point /s. But yeah most panaceas are too good to be true, and are usually thought of by people forgetting to take into account all of the necessary terms in their equation.

REALLY? Someone flagged this?

Fucking hell HN, you need to chill.

>In the end, the problem is due to the massive scale of human consumption on this planet.

The technology required to alter human nature to consume less or alternatively the technology required to win the deadliest war ever fought is going to be a lot harder to develop than it would be to grow a lot of seaweed.

I would rather we focus on cutting down the rest of the 90% of emissions than the natural emissions which have been occurring since before the industrial revolution messed it up.

There is a fine balance in nature and maybe cows are the wrong place to experiment.

How many cows were there pre industrial revolution compared to today? I would guess at at least 2 orders of magnitude increase, is that all 'natural'?

Look I'm not putting up an argument where neither of us have the data to look at this factually, but I don't think we had any problems in the pre industrial revolution era.

My point is - The focus should be on optimizing the sources that contribute the most to these emissions.

The article mentions this could reduce Australias ghg emissions by 10%, figures I've found for the UK suggest 3%. That's a massive cut no matter how you cut it, and shouldn't be ignored.

You cant just say cows were domesticated before the industrial revolution, ergo cows are ok, and shouldn't be part of the solution. Animal husbandry has changed massively in the past 2/300 years, you are comparing apples and oranges.

My 2 orders of magnitude guess is conservative. Population has increased by well over one order of magnitude since the industrial revolution. Per capita meat/dairy consumption accounts for the rest.

Skeptical science remark:

This whole "if cows eat seaweed that'll vastly reduce their carbon footprint" is based on a single study with 12 cows.

If you take into consideration that especially small, never replicated studies often don't hold up to scrunity the next thing to do is not to ask how to produce the seaweed. The next reasonable step would be to try to replicate this study in a larger sample (and probably also with a larger variety of cow breeds).

"is based on a single study with 12 cows."

Its not - most often "skeptical science remarks" although popular, are poorly informed and misleading.

A quick scholar search shows numerous studies broadly agreeing with the one featured here, including the seaweeds effects on sheep digestion and microbial and metabolic details:


> most often "skeptical science remarks" although popular, are poorly informed and misleading.

I thought I was the only one who noticed this! Seems very popular and common in forums like HN and Reddit, but less so elsewhere.

It's more of an "intellectually lazy ego indulgence" than true skepticism. It's a false skepticism. Not that there's anything wrong with it, it's part of being human. I'm often guilty of it and I don't think there are people who aren't. Getting a really rich definition of skepticism helped me make what I came to understand is a very important distinction. Link, In case anybody is interested: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5kzZdps9PG4

I love when you get people complaining about sample sizes, yet the effect is huge and significance levels are minuscule.

Yes, significance testing has some flaws, but they mostly show up at the margins, and complaining about sample sizes has nothing to do with that anyway.

I would prefer being skeptical instead of blindly accepting things. This behavior will instigate another to provide evidence or a counter-argument. This makes for great discussion, in most cases I think it is healthy.

It's easy for what passes for a skeptical attitude to actually _be_ a blind acceptance. Whether of another implicit and unexamined paradigm that one is operating from, or just a dissonance-triggered knee-jerk. It's a very sneaky self-deception, false skepticism.

Aren't you just blindly accepting the skeptical response?

What did you learn from this great conversation:

OP: This study has never been reproduced!!!!

Response: Uh, yes it has.

OP's comment casts doubt on the validity of the article's conclusions. Maybe OP didn't look into it as much as others. The response to OP reaffirms the validity and sways my skeptical mind. I enjoyed both comments; indeed good discussion.

I think that's a hopeful but naive take.

So often, it's just dismissive hot takes with a sprinkling of jargon and absolutely no substance whatsoever.

Substantive critique is fairly rare.

Its not about skeptical remarks being poorly informed. It's about taking a thought that could occur to anyone thinking about the issue at hand without having all the information, presenting it, and having an informed reply. It's part of the dialog, and shouldn't be demonized!

Absolutely agree with you. Critical thinking is a good thing.

Even more skeptical remark:

Effects of nutrition on livestock methane production have been studied for over 20 years now. We have methane reduction results from both in-vivo and in-vitro research. What varies is the numbers (99%, 50%, 15%?). Replication is always welcome but I believe we have enough sound science to move into more industry/engineering efforts.

I agree, we need to slowly study other groups of cows to see if this is a viable solution.

I'm reading Factfulness by Hans Rosling at the moment. He had a great point about "single numbers" - the jist was to always be skeptical of just a single number or metric.

Here's an example [1]. During WWII, soliders were dying in their own vomit because they were laying prone on the battlefield, in sick beds, etc and left unattended. Doctors tried using the Recovery Position [2] and saw a decrease in those types of deaths by about 99% (this is in the book).

Sounds like it should work for other types of people, right? First aid organizations quickly updated their "best recommendations" for all types of people: sick, drunk, young, old. This position was the best possible position for increased airway access, thereby decreasing preventable patient deaths.

It wasn't until the 1980's that this idea was challenged. A few health organizations noticed an increase in infant deaths. Hong Kong's group was the first to investigate this [3]. Other groups joined in and realized that infants, when turned on their stomach, do not have the strength to tip their heads after they vomit. As a result, infant deaths increase when they are placed into the Recovery Position.

The recommendation was quickly updated in the late 1980's / early 1990's. Now the recovery position is recommended for people ages 5 and up.

Between 1940 - 1985, there was a larger number of infant deaths because one group of well-meaning people took some knowledge they gained for one group and quickly applied it to all other groups.

I think this study (cows reducing methane based on diet) is a great idea. But we need to be cautious about applying this quickly to all cows, else we could kill half the cow population and cause the cost of beef to skyrocket.

[1]: https://www.gapminder.org/factfulness-book/notes/, Page 163.

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

[3]: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2866397?dopt=Abstract

My impression is that farmers generally areconservative about how they change their feed for their livestock. I don’t think there is any risk that they will “kill half the cow population” in a hurry.

Good book, that.

You're absolutely right, but the effect size is pretty damn impressive and I expect this to at least partially replicate.

Having a small sample and a large effect doesn't mean you're guaranteed at least some effect on a large sample. If anything, a very large effect is more likely to indicate a flaw in your method.

Yes, but effect sizes are relatively harder to hack/screw up (knowingly or otherwise) than p-values. My totally anecdotal impression is that findings showing large effect sizes seem to replicate better than findings showing highly significant effects.

It could be an example of publication bias, from the wiki article on effect size [1]:

An example of this is publication bias, which occurs when scientists report results only when the estimated effect sizes are large or are statistically significant. As a result, if many researchers carry out studies with low statistical power, the reported effect sizes will tend to be larger than the true (population) effects, if any.

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

Giant effect sizes are easy to hack in biological sciences. All you have to do is conduct an in vitro study.

Like they did in this paper.

Excessively large effect sizes are a warning sign in and of themselves. A good article on this is here: [0] -- simply if the effect is too huge, it becomes incumbent on the researcher to explain why no-one has noticed this before. Methane is a gas with a distinct and noticeable smell. Seaweed is plentiful in many places cows are kept. If the effect was really as dramatic as claimed you'd expect that it'd be well known that letting cows eat seaweed made them less smelly, and the authors of the original study make no attempt to explain why this might be the case.

0: http://daniellakens.blogspot.com/2017/07/impossibly-hungry-j...

> Methane is a gas with a distinct and noticeable smell

Methane is odorless https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Methane

Interesting, thank you! I was surprised by this, as it's the major component of natural gas (as used widely for cooking here), and this has a distinct smell. I went looking however, and discovered that's actually because Ethyl Mercaptan is added specifically to make it detectable by humans. I never realised this, and does indeed explain why it's plausible no-one would have noticed such a large effect.

We add mercaptan (an horrible smelling, innocuous gas) to natural gas (methane), so we get a chance to notice leaks before an explosion.

> "it becomes incumbent on the researcher to explain why no-one has noticed this before"

Farmer: huh, we'll I'll be damned. Who in the hell woulda thought to feed them seaweed."

If I'm not mistaken the original inspiration for this research was precisely that farmers noticed their cattle (or perhaps it was sheep) were happier when allowed to graze in fields which happened to be along the shore, allowing them to naturally eat quantities of sea weed.

Maybe? But an effect which relies on a link between diet and farting isn’t exactly remarkable or even surprising.

My dog farts the most noxious gas if he eats apple or chicken.

In a small sample, the observed effect needs to be large in order to cross the threshold for statistical significance. It could still be a fluke and the true effect zero or even negative.

What's the tendency when a study with a small sample size that show a large observed effect get performed on larger samples? Has it been studied?

It depends. If the original study was published only because it had a positive result (significance filter, usually true), we expect the effect to be smaller in a larger replication. It's called Type M error, with M for magnitude. And, yes, large scale replications typically show smaller effects or no effects. See this paper for details: https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/17456916145516...

Further food for thought: the lower the statistical power of a study which meets a given significance threshold, the more exaggerated the effect size will be.

So our default posture to evidence like this, even assuming we find it broadly credible, should be that the real-world effect is very likely to be smaller than this, and very unlikely to be larger.

Yup. There's plenty of boutique dairy farms within easy driving distance of rich colleges in the northeast (some of whom already have existing relationships with said colleges). I'm sure anyone who seriously wants to replicate the study would be able to find a farmer that will work with then to get an n value of a few hundred. It's not like you have to go somewhere remote to study cow farts.

Most agricultural colleges/universities have their own farms/herds as well.

I went to a college like that. Most colleges with big ag programs aren't spending big resources on cow emissions. Their flagship researchers that get the money are going to be studying things that are of more immediate importance to the farming industry and farming in general. At present those things are usually along the lines of how to minimize negative impacts and/or leverage the current and future changes in climate.

> cow farts

burps, fwiw

The study misses out to report on the increased production of N2O. Which really does not help.

Anecdotally, taking in a little chlorophyll per day dramatically reduces how much gas I produce. So in my experience, it’s at least possible the effect may be large. Worthy of more research.

Don't cows already eat quite a bit of chlorophyll?

Grass fed cows but the vast majority of cows are fed primarily or exclusively grain, not grass/hay.

> "It contains chemicals that reduce the microbes in the cows’ stomachs that cause them to burp when they eat grass."

Apparently, they are comparing this to eating grass. I'm a little skeptical of that statement, though. Grass-fed vs. grain-fed have wildly different outcomes for the health of the animal.

I’m talking about chlorophyll extract specifically so it’d be in addition to the normal dietary chlorophyll as well.

But the confirmation bias is so easy! It's also green! Why do you hate the environment? /s

Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact