France is pressured to reduce cattle due to CO2 emissions – 05/25/2023 – Market
Methane emissions from livestock are taken increasingly seriously by countries committed to curbing global warming. In France, as the government launches a global plan to accelerate the fall in greenhouse gas emissions, a report by the country’s Court of Auditors recommends reducing the number of cows on French farms, especially dairy ones.
The agency points out that the sector accounts for 11.8% of CO2 equivalent emissions in the country — the same as those generated by residential civil construction. Since the 1980s at least, the harmful effects of ruminant digestion on the climate have been known, but have been ignored by agriculture and policy makers. In summary, the digestive process of cattle releases methane, which ends up in the atmosphere through belching. The biggest problem is that methane has a warming potential 25 times greater than CO2.
In the dairy sector, more than half of emissions are from this dangerous gas. “The rest of the emissions are from nitrogen oxides and energy consumption, including the fertilizers used to feed the herd”, explains Jean-Baptiste Dollé, director of the Environment department at the Instituto da Pecuária. “But we should also associate carbon storage with dairy farming, because unlike poultry, for example, the digestive system of ruminants absorbs carbon”, he points out.
France leads beef production in Europe
However, for the French Court of Auditors, this storage and that generated by natural pasture areas are far from compensating for the fact that methane emissions from livestock represent 45% of the total gases generated by agriculture. France is the largest European producer of beef and has 17 million head of cattle. About a fifth of the country’s producers have already committed to decarbonizing production, a number still considered far from enough.
One of the measures recommended by the court is to lower herd numbers to 15 million by 2035 and 13.5 million by 2050, predicting that red meat consumption by adults will also fall.
The other lines of action come from research and innovation, with a focus on feeding the herds. One of the largest higher schools of Agronomy in France, AgroParisTech, develops experiments with different diets at the Experimental Farm of Grignon, in the Parisian region. On site, the average emissions of greenhouse gases for a liter of milk has already dropped from the usual 1.2 kilograms to 750 grams.
“We see that the products we test in the laboratory work, but we need to test them on the farm, to see if, from a biological point of view, they also work. We saw that, for methane, some experiments worked very well in the laboratory, with a 50% drop in emissions of this gas, but unfortunately when testing the cow, we had a 0.0% drop”, says the farm’s director, Dominique Tristant. “Overall, only one test in six will have a viable commercial life,” he laments.
Diet facilitates digestion
In the Brittany region, the Bleu-Blanc-Coeur association has supported farmers interested in reducing the environmental footprint of livestock. Valentin Guillaumel, environmental coordinator of the initiative, advises producers to include a mixture of flax, canola and alfalfa in the cows’ feed.
“We tried to find a natural source of omega 3 in addition to that found in pasture, and research has shown that flax is efficient. Omega 3 can reduce emissions because the cow is able to digest better”, he stresses.
He explains that feed is a source of energy that the cow ingests. “A part of that energy will be used for her to produce milk and the more effective the feed is, that is, the better she digests it, the more milk she will produce and the less she will emit methane. Methane is, in reality, an energy loss. Our idea is to redirect some digestion microbes to reduce the methane result”, he adds.
Another way to limit the sector’s emissions is the advancement of genetic research, still under development in France, to identify animals likely to release less methane in digestion.