Three dairy companies -- Ben & Jerry's, Straus Family Creamery, and Clover Sonoma -- have signed deals to begin rolling out Blue Ocean Barns natural seaweed supplement for their cows, with the aim to ‘dramatically cut’ the greenhouse gas footprint of their farm operations.
The Blue Ocean Barns supplement, Brominata, is a dehydrated form of a red seaweed that is proven to safely cut cows' methane emissions from burps by more than 80%, without changing the taste of milk or meat, according to peer-reviewed publications.
The California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) authorized commercial use of Brominata as a digestive aid for cattle earlier this Spring.
Methane reductions to cool the planet
Global methane emissions are generated predominantly by the agriculture industry and are more than 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide over the first two decades of release.
But significant reductions in livestock-generated methane gases could slow the progress of climate change, according to the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP). In fact, studies at the University of California, Davis, and the University of Oxford have concluded that methane reductions can actually have a cooling effect on the climate.
With about a quarter of all methane emissions worldwide produced by cattle enteric fermentation – or cow burps – Blue Ocean Barns believes its supplement could play an important role in reducing the impact of animal agriculture on climate.
"We are working closely with food industry leaders eager to achieve rigorously verified and auditable greenhouse gas reductions within their own supply chains," said Joan Salwen, Co-Founder and CEO of Blue Ocean Barns. "Ben & Jerry's, Straus Family Creamery, and Clover Sonoma are pioneering companies directly engaging their farmers and processors to ensure their collective success in direct reduction of methane emissions."
Dairy businesses tacking their climate impact
Unilever-owned Ben & Jerry’s has set a target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions on 15 dairy farms to half the industry average by the end of 2024, including through the use of Brominata.
If the pilot is successful, Ben & Jerry's plans to then expand the project to farms across its global dairy supply chain, the company said.
"We believe in using the power of our business to create positive change," explained Jenna Evans, Global Sustainability Manager for Ben & Jerry's. "The fact that Brominata is effective in small quantities and easy for farmers to use makes it both environmentally and economically sustainable. We couldn't be more excited to be an early adopter and to join other businesses in ushering in a new era of sustainable dairy."
Meanwhile, in California last summer Straus Family Creamery conducted what it described as the first commercial trial using the red seaweed (Asparogopsis taxiformis) on the Straus Organic Dairy Farm. For the next phase of the Petaluma-based company's rollout of Brominata, Albert Straus' farm will be the first organic dairy in the United States to feed Brominata to cows as part of its goal of being carbon neutral by 2023.
Straus Family Creamery has set a target for all of the dairy farms that supply it to be carbon neutral by 2030.
"If we can get up to 90% reduction in methane emissions through feeding red seaweed to cows, this is a huge leap forward for us in creating a sustainable farming system that is beneficial to the planet and our communities," said Albert Straus, Founder and CEO. "Red seaweed is the next critical step we need to reach our carbon-neutral farming model."
Elsewhere, Clover Sonoma has signed a contract to buy Brominata for a Sonoma County project. With the aim of showing its farmer-suppliers how Brominata can help meet climate goals and increase feed efficiency in cattle, the company will run a 90-day demonstration program.
"We look forward to being a part of a larger movement to identify and trial sustainability innovations that reduce methane emissions," said Clover Sonoma's Chief Growth Officer Kristel Corson. "In 2021, we conducted an emissions and inventory analysis to help us set goals that reduce our climate impact. Our seaweed trial with Blue Ocean Barns is one step in that process and will help us execute a climate solution that will elevate the dairy industry overall. As part of a collaborative effort, we can make significant progress in helping our planet survive and thrive."