Mitigating enteric methane: tech solutions for solving the cow burp problem

It’s the early days of research into reducing enteric methane emissions from cows and other ruminants, but there are promising solutions.

January 29, 2024

Agriculture in the U.S. produces more methane than the American oil and gas industry, and the biggest share of that agricultural methane is from enteric fermentation – essentially cow burps. Cows and other ruminant animals release methane because of the way they digest food. And as animal protein consumption rises, so will enteric emissions.

It’s a problem for climate change, but also for farmers. Methane is wasted energy that could have been used for beef or dairy production – and so enteric methane production is a challenge that researchers have been trying to solve for years. Some promising solutions are starting to make it into practice.

In this episode, Shayle talks to Charles Brooke, program manager for enteric methane at Spark Climate Solutions. Shayle and Charles cover topics like:

  • Why most enteric methane comes from small-holder pasture-raised animals, instead of feed-lot-raised animals.
  • The different solutions in the pipeline, such as better livestock management, feed additives, vaccines, and breeding.
  • The challenges with feed additives that animals must eat everyday, like bromoform, Bovaer, and 3-NOP.
  • How vaccines and breeding could shift global populations more permanently.
  • The barriers to adoption, such as regulatory hurdles and public skepticism.

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Shayle Kann: I'm Shayle Kann, and this is Catalyst.

Charles Brooke: Ruminants, in general, cattle, sheep, goats, they eat really complex organic matter, like grass, and they ferment it. So cattle are just giant fermentation vessels on legs.

Shayle Kann: Listen, we've moved past the cow burp jokes, okay? Grow up.

I'm Shayle Kann. I invest in revolutionary climate technologies at energy impact partners. Welcome.

So at this point, I think most climate conscious people know that cows and other ruminant animals are responsible for a pretty significant portion of greenhouse gas emissions, but what I think most people don't recognize yet is what a challenge it's going to be to eliminate these emissions, or even significantly reduce them.

Sure, there are alternative proteins and alternative diets, but even in a pretty ambitious success case, it would take a very long time to truly replace the world's currently growing consumption of meat and dairy. And absent basically getting rid of a significant portion of the world's billion and a half cows, the other options are tricky, either because they only work on certain cattle, say those that are fed in a feedlot rather than pastured or grazing, or because they haven't been proven technically, or even because if they do work they still might have something of a marginal impact on total emissions from any given cow.

But it's a ripe area of research and innovation. It's undeniably unsolved. So let's talk through the state of affairs. With me this week was Charles Brook, who leads the enteric methane program at Spark Climate Solutions. And, as you'll hear, Charles can tell you everything you need to know about cow burps.

Charles, welcome.

Charles Brooke: Hi, Shayle, how are you? Thank you for having me today.

Shayle Kann: I am very excited to talk about enteric methane emissions, starting with the mechanics, I guess. So, can you explain just what causes enteric methane emissions? Where does it come from and why?

Charles Brooke: Enteric methane emissions can be thought of as a waste process. This is the waste process for ruminant animals to get rid of the end process of their metabolisms.

Ruminants in general, cattle, sheep, goats, they eat really complex organic matter like grass, which is a complex substrate, and they ferment it. So cattle are just giant fermentation vessels on legs, and they break down this matter, and generate CO2, and hydrogen, and methanogens inside the rumen, combine those to produce methane, which the cow burps out. And some of that methane is also absorbed into the bloodstream and breathed out their lungs, and that is the largest source of methane, anthropogenic source of methane, globally.

Shayle Kann: And can you just go a little bit more into the mechanics of that, or maybe from an evolutionary perspective, why did ruminants evolve methanogens? What is happening in the rumen that makes it worthwhile to ingest grass and produce methane?

Charles Brooke: Well, you have a lot of open forage. So grass is available, but the problem is it's bound in complex forms, and the energy isn't available for the animal. So you need a complex mixture of organisms that are able to break down that matter into smaller and smaller bites, and then they eventually generate volatile fatty acids and simple sugars that the animal can actually use. And this is a mixture of anaerobic fungi, bacteria, protozoa, viruses even, and they all work in concert to deliver this.

But in that process, if you have too much hydrogen buildup, the process will stop and you'll get backup of this metabolic process. And so we need a good way to remove these waste processes in both CO2 and hydrogen. So by combining them, and forming that gas, and then liberating that via burps out of the system, you're able to effectively remove hydrogen from the system.

Shayle Kann: And how much... We're going to talk later about ways to mitigate enteric methane emissions, including feed additives, but setting aside the new feed additives that we humans are introducing, how much variability is there in the amount of methane that is produced by, let's just say, apples to apples, the same cow eating one type of grass or one type of feed versus another type of feed? Is it a substantial variability or is it pretty consistent?

Charles Brooke: The diet can generate wild variability in how much methane an animal actually produces.

So, for instance, the largest discrepancy is dairy cows versus beef cattle, or beef cattle in a feedlot. So dairy cattle are fed a forage ration higher in fiber content, overall dry matter intakes increase, and that's really the number one indicator how much of methane an animal is going to create is how much dry matter they're actually intaking. But when it comes to a beef feedlot, these animals are generally fed a higher ration of grain. These simpler sugars, easier to digest, they pass through the rumen much faster, and they're not as methanogenic. So beef animals produce significantly less at the feedlot state than say a dairy animal.

Shayle Kann: Which is interesting, just because I feel like the general rhetoric on climate-conscious food consumption would assume that eating beef is much worse than drinking dairy.

Charles Brooke: Yes.

Shayle Kann: But at the cow level, that's not necessarily true.

Charles Brooke: Not necessarily at the cow level, but also we need to think about volume. So how many cows are each part of these systems?

So we can take an example from the US. We're talking about 90 million beef cattle, whereas we have about 12 million dairy cows. So the volume of animals necessary to produce products is significantly larger for the beef sector. And the dairy animals live longer. They're not harvested at the intervals that beef animals are harvested. They're usually five, six years old, have gone through multiple lactation cycles, whereas beef animals, they're raised for the endpoint of slaughter and meat.

So overall, their life span is shorter and in the end, per animal, yes, dairy might produce more, but it also depends on what stage of the beef cycle you're at.

Shayle Kann: Let's talk about how big a problem this is and then get back down into the weeds of it. In aggregate, how much methane emissions, and translating that to CO2 equivalent, how much of the world's greenhouse gas emissions is due to enteric emissions from ruminants?

Charles Brooke: Sure. So we can talk about it a couple of different ways. So in global warming potential, when you look at the overall methane emissions, globally, agriculture is about 40%, and 70% of that is enteric methane. Now, on a warming standpoint, we're talking about half a degree C of warming effect is due to methane and about a little over 0.1 degree C, about a fifth of the warming from methane, is resulted from enteric methane.

Shayle Kann: And so to contextualize that, that's more than, I don't know, all trucks in the world. It's a big number. It's bigger than you might appreciate if you hadn't really sliced and diced the greenhouse gas pie.

Charles Brooke: And in US specifically, the US system is a little bit different than some others. We have a little bit more methane emissions from manure, for instance, for how we manage it. But between interior fermentation and manure management in the US, that's more methane than our natural gas systems, petroleum systems, and coal mining combined. It's a significant portion, and globally it's a major portion of the methane emissions that we can try to address.

Shayle Kann: Let's break that down a little bit more. You mentioned the US. I'm interested in both the regional perspective and the animal-type perspective.

So of the total enteric emissions globally, where is it coming from geographically predominantly? Where are the ruminants? And then second, I know there are big differences. You already mentioned the differences, for example, between dairy cattle and beef cattle, but I know there's also big differences between for example, feedlot animals and pasture animals.

So can you just give me a couple different slices of a breakdown of where these emissions come from?

Charles Brooke: Absolutely. By country, region, the large proportions are from the Americas, the North and South Americas and Asia, with actually India being the largest concentration of cattle, globally. About a fifth of the cattle population is in India, and that's followed by Brazil in South America, and then China, a little over a hundred million head, the US a little over a hundred million animals. And globally, we're talking about 1.5 billion cattle. And it's not just the numbers. You could say, well, a fifth, are in India we're focusing on where most of the head are. Really has to do with their efficiency as well and how they're managed, because how they're managed is directly related to how much methane they're going to produce, and how productive those animals are.

So, broken down, we have the five big one, and that's India, Brazil, China, US, Argentina, the EU, and most of that is cattle. So 77% of that is cattle, and then a 15% is actually buffalo. And then we have smaller ruminants, it's like sheep and goats, which make up a much smaller section of the emissions.

Shayle Kann: Buffalo I would not have known. Just, I don't know... Where are there a lot of buffalo?

Charles Brooke: India, there's actually a lot of water buffalo in India. They are quite a resilient species. And they're also in... We frame the context here. We often think about cattle raising and livestock production systems in a US context, or in a high-income country context, and that's not the context that we're operating in these systems.

These are smallholder farms where these individual producers might have one to two acres of land and they might have three to four animals, but there's tens of millions of smallholder farmers in this instance. So these animals, these buffalo for instance, are serving multiple purposes. They might be work animals, they might be status symbols in some instances, and they're also serving as a form of bank account for these... These are a form of resiliency for smallholder farmers. And again, how they're managed plays into their emissions. So like an animal on pasture is going to produce significantly more methane than an animal on a feedlot.

Shayle Kann: And that also, we'll come back to this pasture versus feedlot question, because when we talk about some of the solutions that are being proposed, they are easier to implement in one case or another. Overall though, what portion of ruminants, or what portion of emissions comes from feedlot cattle versus pasture cattle?

Charles Brooke: So my projection is about over 80% of the emissions are from animals on pasture.

Shayle Kann: So we'll keep that 80% in our heads when we get back to some of the potential solutions. I guess final question on the state of affairs, what's the trajectory? Is the world, you said 1.5 billion cattle today. Is that number steady, dramatically increasing? You'd imagine if the majority of it is in India, Brazil, China places with a lot of population growth, unless the diet is changing substantially, these numbers are just going up.

Charles Brooke: No, absolutely. And all the models that we have indicate that exactly. And we're expecting animal protein consumption to increase by about 20% by mid-century, about 2050. And that's going to result in an increase in emissions from livestock production by about 46%, and that's largely due to where this growth is going to be seen in a lot of these smallholder settings.

Shayle Kann: All right, so the obvious question is what do you do about it? This is a lot of greenhouse gas emissions and it's increasing. The first point to make is that there's a non greenhouse gas emissions oriented argument to try to solve this problem in some ways, which is that in an ideal world, you don't want methane emissions, even setting aside the global warming potential of it, you don't want methane emissions from ruminants because it's basically wasted energy.

Charles Brooke: That is true. And there's been a lot of efforts in the space to try to harness that wasted energy. And a lot of people come into the field, and they come into understanding enteric methane, and they think it's a new field, but the reality is we've been trying to solve this enteric methane emissions problem on an efficiency standpoint since the 1960s. And in the guise of, if we can yield that energy that's going to methane into milk or meat, we can have far more productive animals.

And so that's really been the focus of a lot of the research until the early 2000s, we really started to shift, and it started to be this combination strategy of understanding the climate impacts of methane generally and enteric fermentation and how we could couple that to efficiency improvements.

Shayle Kann: And so prior to the 2000s, and when we started thinking about it from a greenhouse gas emissions perspective, what was the thrust of that research? What were the ideas people were proposing?

Charles Brooke: A lot of it's similar to some of the early work we've seen today, forage changes and tannins being delivered in feed rations. There certainly wasn't as strong of a push in finding individual inhibitors, but there's some products that have been on the market.

Chloroform was used very early on to reduce methane emissions in cattle, it's just not very good for the animal. It could reduce methane production, but overall, not really sustainable strategy. But overall, we measure methane on a regular basis for developing feed rations to ensure that we're not losing too much energy. Methane emissions is a regular measurement in respiration chamber studies to understand what our energy loss is and try to reduce that. So between two and 12% is generally thought to be what we could gain if we were able to redirect that energy into actual productive processes.

Shayle Kann: All right, so let's talk about the suite of proposed solutions as it stands today. Maybe starting with the... I think about this similar to soil carbon and other ag-related emissions categories, where there's a suite of things that are just practice changes that generally have a pretty muted impact but are easiest to implement, and then it gets more and more, I don't know, directly influential on the thing and harder to implement as you scale up.

So let's think about it in that context, starting with just the operational changes. What are the things that can be done by an individual farmer to reduce methane emissions?

Charles Brooke: First, I'd like to put this in a smallholder context, so in the lower intensity systems, what could they do to decrease emissions? And it's a host of management changes in how we approach production.

So, a grazing animal, this is a real example out of Kenya. So a grazing animal supplemented with some low quality byproducts, they're just foraging out on pasture. They're going to produce probably 180 liters of milk a year. That's probably a two to three month milking cycle, and it's like two liters a day. It's not a lot of milk. That animal's going to produce about 55 kilos of methane during that year.

Now, if we're able to maximize that animal's productivity, if it was fed properly, it had the proper supplementation, we really dialed in its diet, we could change that dramatically. It would be fed more, so it would actually produce more methane. So if you put it on a full production ration, it would probably boost up to about 90 kilos of methane per year. So almost double the methane per that animal. But that animal is going to milk longer. You could produce up to 4,600 liters a year from that 180. We're talking a 20 fold increase in milk production.

And then so if you compare that to how many animals were on that basal diet, you could displace 25 animals as long as you... If that met your demand. If you were able to meet your demand with less animals, that's really the goal of improving the production systems in these smaller contexts.

Shayle Kann: And so that's an argument to provide better... That's an argument for economic development in some ways It's just an argument to provide smallholder farmers with better access to cattle feed, because those cattle will become way more efficient, and even if they individually produce more methane, it'll be way less methane per liter of milk produced, basically.

Charles Brooke: Absolutely. This is the intensity argument It's the amount of methane produced per amount of product. So it's an opportunity for farmers to understand what feeds they have available to them regionally, what they can and should grow to maximize their production, and education, again, opportunity for them to maximize that production. But they also need markets to sell that in, because if you're one farmer and you're used to making... You had five cows, you make 10 liters of milk a day, and now you're quadruple that, you can't drink all that milk. So you need effective market systems to distribute that to people who do, and those that can pay for it as well.

Shayle Kann: So just so that we have a basis for comparison as we talk about some of these next things that people are proposing, what is the total efficiency improvement that we think this might enable?

Charles Brooke: The projections are about 20%. We could abate about 20% of the emissions that were expected to increase by this improvement in efficiency. It's actually one of the largest sectors of marginal abatement that we've modeled.

Shayle Kann: Okay, so let's move up the chain of more complex intervention and talk about what I think has been, at least in the world of climate tech, and startups, and innovations, and financing activity, where most of the attention dollars have gone, which is to feed additives. Basically feed the cattle something new, and that thing new prohibits some amount of methane emissions.

Can you just talk about that category broadly and how you break it down?

Charles Brooke: Sure. So generally, there's a couple of different classes of feed additives based on how they work. There are additives that we consider alternative hydrogen sinks, so these are compounds that keep hydrogen away from methanogens and decrease the amount that's actually formed into methane. And then there are methanogenesis inhibitors, so these are chemical, or natural, or synthetic compounds that directly inhibit enzymes in the methanogenesis pathway.

And so those are the two large classes that have been developed and several years of research behind them. The alternative hydrogen acceptors, things like nitrate has been a common one, although its general efficacy is generally lower than 10%, and there's a limit to how much you can feed. There are compounds like lactate and fumarate, which are hydrogen acceptors and can lead into propionate production, which is a good volatile fatty acid, helps fat production in animals.

But when you switch to methanogenesis inhibitors, some of the large ones are like three nitro-oxy-propanol, which is sold under the trade name Bovaer, that was developed by DSM. And that was a direct effort. They went through the methanogenesis pathway and developed a compound to inhibit methanogenesis. And then there are natural compounds like those found in the red seaweed, asparagopsis taxiformis. The halogens like bromoform. And so bromoform, I mentioned earlier that chloroform was a compound used to reduce methane early on, but it's not great to use chloroform. Bromoform has a similar mode of action, just not as toxic as chloroform. So it was just found in higher abundance in some of the tropical red seaweeds, and that has spurred quite a lot of innovation for growing asparagopsis for this purpose.

Shayle Kann: So these are the two, I think, best known pathways here. As you said, DSM has its own product, that specific one, that's 3-NOP or the product name is Bovaer. And then there's a bunch of companies that are pursuing different ways to produce and feed bromoform, largely in the form of asparagopsis, asparagopsis being this red seaweed that happens to produce it, and then there's a bunch of different formulations based on that.

In both of those cases, you mentioned the efficacy of the first path, the hydrogen acceptors path, basically, being sub 10%. What have we seen in terms of efficacy on Bovaer and the various formulations of bromoform?

Charles Brooke: So what we do find is efficacy dependent on diet in most cases, or at least how much you have to feed, but generally 3-NOP can deliver, and it has very consistently delivered an average about 30% reduction, absolutely, across the board. Whereas bromoform has had quite a bit of variability. We see that in beef cattle. So on a ration like a beef feedlot ration, high grain, up to 90% reduction, massive reductions, but those animals are also producing less methane already. Whereas in a dairy setting, that same compound is maybe going to achieve 40, maybe 60% in a dairy cow. So the variability is significant and why that is isn't always clear.

It takes a lot of animals to do these studies, and we also don't understand the adaptation to these products over time. And that's why we need these longer term studies to understand, is this product going to work for six months? Is it going to work for a year, or throughout the life of this animal? Can I just adopt this as a regular practice? Do I need to cycle these on and off? There's a lot of unknowns right now about the long-term efficacy of these products.

Shayle Kann: And then of course, there's the other challenge, which is these are feed additives, so you have to feed them to the cattle. And the question is how often do you have to feed them to the cattle? And if you have to feed them to the cattle very often, that limits you to feedlot or feedlot-like animals, which, as I said before, we'll come back to later, because that is a very small minority of all cattle in the world.

So how do you think about the scope and applicability of these feed additives in total, and is there any prospect of solving that problem for pasture animals?

Charles Brooke: So as far as pasture-based delivery, things like 3-NOP, the actual size of the molecule is generally considered too large to be delivered in a smaller format. So one of the delivery formats that we've been entertaining is a bolus. Boluses are standard practice for delivering minerals, vitamins, nutrients to cattle. And really what it is a... Think about a large hard-pressed pill that you would take in your vitamin mix every morning, it's like that and it's inserted into the rumen, it might be up to 300 grams, and it sits there and slow releases over time. Now obviously the size of that's going to be the limiting factor and the mode of action. 3-NOP, you have to fade that thing twice a day because it metabolizes very quickly. It works very well, but it metabolizes very quickly.

There have been some efforts to try to put bromoform, much smaller molecule, into a slow-release bolus format, but this is really the next bastion of research that is needed. We understand the beachhead market that these high income countries, their dairies, large and intensive dairy systems and feedlots that we can deliver these products into, but we need to be innovating for the pasture setting, and there are a couple of different approaches in that, bolus included, that we're starting to see. And one of those is similar vaccine development in this space, and then also breeding. Breeding is a very interesting prospect in this area.

Shayle Kann: So that's a good segue. So we've talked about the feed-additive category. Let's talk about vaccines. Vaccines earlier in development, nothing really in the market yet, but there are some efforts to develop vaccines that... You can imagine why vaccines are attractive here, by the way, inherently lower cost structure. If they last long enough, you don't need a booster every day, then you've got a solution to your pasture problem as well. Also, cows are given lots of vaccines already. This is a mode of delivery that's not inherently disruptive.

Where are we in the journey of trying to develop vaccines here? And similar question on efficacy, what do we know about what the efficacy of a vaccine might be?

Charles Brooke: Sure, I will say we're talking early days, but some of the first efforts came out of New Zealand. We've been working on a vaccine out of New Zealand, I think for over 10 years now, but it hasn't really had the focus that it has and really in the overall climate perspective that we are seeing today.

So there's ag research out of New Zealand and in the US. There's a company called [inaudible 00:27:35], which are actively trying to develop vaccines for this. And it is tricky, because the rumen doesn't really have an immune system, it doesn't have an effective mechanism to deliver antibodies. You and I, we get a vaccine and we have antigens that target, or excuse me, antibodies that target an antigen, and we have cells that come in and clear those out. You don't have that in the rumen. So really you need to be able to deliver an antibody into the rumen, bind its target, and deactivate it via that binding.

And the way we're approaching this right now is you'll get a mucosal antibody response, and that antibody will be delivered from the saliva into the rumen, and that's where the antibody is actually going to be delivered. And early days we're seeing it's probably going to be more than one shot. It's probably going to be an initial and a booster at least. And we're also looking at early life. Similar to how we deliver scour, so scours like diarrhea and CAS norovirus or even coronaviruses.

But if you can vaccinate the mother cow, and it can deliver those antibodies early in life, it could set that animal up to have lower methane emissions its entire life, because we see methanogens seed very early on. And if you can set up an environment where they can't seed within those first couple of days and weeks in life, you may be able to shift the rumen population of microorganisms to have lower methane potential in that instance. So a couple of doses seems reasonable. And efficacy has been all over the board, and again, we're talking really early, everything from in vitro to really early in vivo animal studies, but we're hoping above 20%. That would be a real win as far as a pasture-based application.

Shayle Kann: Stepping back for one second, one of my... I've spent a bunch of time trying to understand this space, and talking to all the companies in it, and so on, one of the things that has surprised me is those efficacy numbers with the exception of some feeding bromoform to dairy cattle type of applications, like 20, 30% seems to be, maybe 40% seems to be... Those are good numbers.

Is there anything that's sufficiently disruptive to have, in your mind, a realistic prospect of a, if not a hundred percent, then near complete reduction in methane emissions apart from just less cows?

Charles Brooke: So I think a hundred percent is possible, I think it will take a combination of things to get there. Because it's not enough to just reduce methane. You reduce methane and now you have hydrogen liberated, so you need to do something with it. So there may be an application there as a sub-feed additive to maximize that hydrogen as well if the rumen doesn't do it itself. But also you could combine additives together with different modes of action to deliver more.

Well, one thing I'm really excited about is the combination of feed additives, or vaccines, to a breeding program. And so we find that there are low methane and high methane phenotypes, and it's heritability trackable. We can breed for low-methane phenotypes, and this could be 20 to 30% reductions while we maintain the same efficiency in these high-efficiency genetics.

And so recently it was demonstrated that these low-methane phenotypes responded the same to inhibitors as the high-methane phenotypes. So you could get maybe 30% from a breeding program, and then you can stack a feed additive on top of that, and then now you're talking maybe 60, 70% reduction. And we need, and this is just based on low phenotype, there might be other genetic traits that we'd be able to select for that might change that prospect above 30%. And again, this is the early days of investigation that we need to really dive into to see how far can we go towards a hundred percent.

Shayle Kann: Let's talk for a minute about the market for all this stuff. Obviously reducing greenhouse gas emissions is great. How you monetize the reduction in greenhouse gas emissions is another question and varies by market.

Obviously, here we're talking about a variety of different things, from operational changes to I think what's more salient here, which is things that have a direct cost, like feed additives for example, and some of which are already in the market. Bovaer is a product being sold. So how is it being monetized? Is it that somewhere in the supply chain, somebody has an emissions-reduction target and is willing to pay a premium for that dairy or that beef? Is it carbon credits? Is it based on the energy gain that, as you said, reducing methane emissions can actually increase yield? What are we seeing in terms of early days of the market here?

Charles Brooke: I would say early days of the market is pretty much driven by an inset or offsetting market. So this is going to be corporate action in the supply chain to drive this change. They've set some emissions reduction target, and they're trying to achieve that. Because of the expense that we've seen with doing these types of trials, we haven't had a lot of great representations of the reduction in methane leading to a increase in productivity. While that is possible, the number of animals you need for those studies is significant, and that's just... Sometimes you need to get to actual on-farm level production numbers to be able to demonstrate that type of production increase, thousands of animals, which might not be tenable for an academic trial or a clinical practice trial.

So, while it's often modeled, that efficiency gain can often be modeled in perspectives, and even people's economic analysis as far as what that cost is going to be, it's very difficult to demonstrate that, especially early on. So a lot of this is coming from just simply what's it cost to make, what's it cost to actually distribute and mix on farm, and then what incentives are available? And a lot of those incentives are coming directly from these insetting and offset marketplace right now.

We've seen a little bit of traction. California had some funding to deploy an adoption program, an early-adoption program during the recent budget hit that seems to have gone away, but that's really what's driving it, is the corporate action, and the supply chain, and also some pressure from... Some regulatory pressure. There is not wide regulatory pressure here to reduce enteric methane emissions, just general talk right now.

Shayle Kann: That's a good segue to take. My final question is what are the barriers to adoption of these things, regulatory potentially being one of them, these new feed additives, and vaccines, things like that. They need regulatory approval, and so I'm interested in your perspective on how easy or challenging that is. And I know it's jurisdiction specific, but broadly, what are we seeing there?

And then any other issues, public perception, is that a big challenge, consumer adoption, et cetera? What are the things that are going to make it annoyingly slow to adopt these solutions?

Charles Brooke: The regulatory part is something we've been pretty actively trying to overcome actually for quite some time. These products are considered new animal drugs, especially here in the US. Other countries have pathways for products that only act inside the GI tract. They can classify them under a different mechanism, they can approve them under a different mechanism, but here in the US, if you're going to make a claim about something, like it decreases methane emissions, you have to prove that, and that really pigeonholes you into a new animal drug pathway, which is quite extensive. We're talking average of upwards of eight years to get through the process.

Whereas the efforts right now are to take, what we have is called a feed additive petition process, and amend that to show proof of efficacy. So a feed additive petition process could be like two years, significant fold reduction in the timeframe for regulatory, but you still have to prove that it works. And seemingly regulatory doesn't care how well it works, just that you can demonstrate that there's a significant difference in the base case versus using your product on what you're measuring.

So they won't care if it's 20% or 30%, just long as it does or does not do its job. One product has been approved in this area for ammonia reduction, and that was a product called Experior out of Elanco, but it's really the first product of its kind to make an environmental claim and on a drug platform.

Shayle Kann: And then how about public perception?

Charles Brooke: So this is an area where we really need to do better in the development of these technologies and understanding how they fit in the marketplace, because it's not just producers who are going to be adopting these products, it's also how consumers are going to feel about it. We saw backlash when we rolled out Recombinant Bovine Somatotropin, RBST, which could significantly increase milk production, but there was no education in the space for people to understand how this technology worked and be comfortable with its safety. And now dang near every milk gallon you see in the store says, "From cows not treated with RBST." And that's not because of its safety, that was because of a fear and a lack of trust from these productivity-enhancing technologies. And we can really approach feed additives or anything else in the same light, and understand that we do need to have education in that space, and we do need to have really conscious engagement with producers and consumers for these types of products that are developed.

Shayle Kann: Okay. So if we're just getting up to speed on this space, what are the key takeaways from your perspective? How should we be thinking about inter commissions?

Charles Brooke: It's a difficult challenge. It's a global challenge, but we can address emissions in this sector, and it's really going to take a concerted effort and a coordinated effort on behalf of different governments, individual actors, corporate action to drive effort into this space. Funding for research is definitely needed, philanthropic support, policy support, but really coordination I think is really key here, and making sure that everyone understands the goal so we can blend the different tracks.

We talk about breeding, we talk about feed additive, we talk about ration improvement. The reality is we need all of these, and unless we have a concerted and coordinated approach to reducing emissions across the board, we're not going to be able to maximize the reductions that we need. And so, yes, I would say that a coordinated approach to reducing enteric methane on national levels is really the way forward.

Shayle Kann: Charles, thank you so much. This was a lot of fun.

Charles Brooke: Thank you, Shayle. I appreciate it.

Shayle Kann: Charles Brook leads the enteric methane program at Spark Climate Solutions. This shows a production of Latitude Media. You can head over to for links to today's topics.

Latitude is supported by Prelude Ventures. Prelude backs visionaries accelerating climate innovation that will reshape the global economy for the betterment of people and planet. Learn more at

This episode was produced by Daniel Waldorf, mixing by Roy Campanella and Sean Marquand. Theme song by Sean Marquand.

I'm Shayle Kann, and this is Catalyst.

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