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 email@example.com. And follow our newsletter for updates at https://goodalgae.com.
I did some quick calculations on a napkin.
Apparently there are between 1 billion and 1.5 billion cows . Let’s just say 1.5 Billion.
In New Zealand the beef (dry cow) vs dairy cow ratio is almost 1:1 , 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 , milking cows 25kg dry matter .
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 .
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.
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 .
: http://www.fao.org/3/a-i5555e.pdf, page 24, table 7
There is a huge about of R&D needed to get any of this to scale. Some of it is already underway.
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.
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), 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.
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."
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).
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."
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Everything I've read (or heard from other people) suggests it is not just me, that this principle generalizes.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I think it's good to keep the quick fun under control.
That said, I think there is a happy medium which isn't entirely po-faced.
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.
What are the chances the gains here might be on the order where we could stop dosing cattle with antibiotics?
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.
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  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.
The UN disagrees. 
> 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?
 - https://www.unwater.org/water-facts/climate-change/
EPA shows that annual precipitation has consistently increased over the past century, so the water scare is a bad play:
No, I'm arguing that you are conflating precipitation with water accessibility.
Without such a metric, then it's easier to show that local political issues are what's causing these issues.
"But it's cold in my office, global warming debunked!"
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.
It was only a naive relation I saw between the bacteria inside the cows stomach and the one in the permafrost ;-)
 Maybe less using the haloform reaction. I'm not intimately familiar with the best-industrial manufacturing methods.
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.
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
Does this not rather imply that the cows are nutritionally deficient of something that this seaweed provides? Perhaps something in their ancestral environment?
The '+' directive in the email address: do you use business Gmail, or does another email system use it similarly?
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.
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.
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?
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.
(as an aside - $15 on fast food a day! for your sake I hope it's relatively healthy stuff!)
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.
> 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.
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.
This  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.
I'd recommend you go and buy some real food. Regardless of macros, McDonalds is full of garbage, especially in the US.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.'
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.
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.
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...
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.
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.
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.
From the article: "When added to cow feed at less than 2% of the dry matter, this particular seaweed completely knocks out methane production.".
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.
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?
> “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.
> 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
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...
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.
I will happily eat either a beef burger or a veggie burger but the Beyond Burger is in the uncanny valley right now.
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.
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.
Thanks for that, made me reflect on how stupid it sounds but how common it is.
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.
In places where nuts, vegetables, fruits aren't available, meat may be a more environmentally friendly choice.
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.
I mean, I'd guess it was, but equally it could be "why do you care, it tastes good", so ...?
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).
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).
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.
Chopping down and burning rainforest carbon sinks to plant food crops, now that’s where the real problem is.
The obviously this messes with cows’ gut bacteria. Wonder if it has any significant effects on cows or is it better all around?
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.
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.
Fucking hell HN, you need to chill.
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.
There is a fine balance in nature and maybe cows are the wrong place to experiment.
My point is - The focus should be on optimizing the sources that contribute the most to these emissions.
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.
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).
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:
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.
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.
What did you learn from this great conversation:
OP: This study has never been reproduced!!!!
Response: Uh, yes it has.
So often, it's just dismissive hot takes with a sprinkling of jargon and absolutely no substance whatsoever.
Substantive critique is fairly rare.
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'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 . 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  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 . 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.
: https://www.gapminder.org/factfulness-book/notes/, Page 163.
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.
Like they did in this paper.
Methane is odorless
Farmer: huh, we'll I'll be damned. Who in the hell woulda thought to feed them seaweed."
My dog farts the most noxious gas if he eats apple or chicken.
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.
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.