Bel Group rolls out Bovaer in Slovakia in search of a low-emissions Babybel

By Teodora Lyubomirova

- Last updated on GMT

Getty/Monty Rakusen
Getty/Monty Rakusen

Related tags methane inhibition Sustainability Dairy Cheese methane reduction Methane emissions Carbon label claims

The maker of Babybel expects that introducing the feed additive across the majority of its milk supplying farms in Slovakia would yield an overall yearly reduction of 11,000 tons of CO2e.

The Bel Group is rolling out Bovaer to 80% of its dairy producers in Slovakia, who supply around 70 million liters of milk per year, used to make the group’s Babybel cheeses distributed in Central Europe and the UK. The remaining 20% of producers are either organic dairies that cannot currently utilize the feed additive for regulatory reasons, or are non-exclusive producers that supply other dairy firms and for whom ‘is not relevant’ to deploy Bovaer across their entire production, we were told.

Bovaer is the only feed additive with an environmental claim (‘reduces methane emissions’) approved in the European Union. When added to the dairy cows’ diet – no more than a quarter of a teaspoon per cow per day – the feed additive can suppress some of the chemical reactions that produce the gas in the rumen, thus making dairy cows emit 25% less methane on average. Developed by DSM-Firmenich, Bovaer is registered and available in 45 countries globally, mainly in Europe, Latin America and Asia.

Arla Foods in Germany, Sweden and Denmark, and FrieslandCampina in the Netherlands are two of the dairy co-operatives that are trialing the feed additive. Meanwhile, Danone launched Actimel with a carbon-neutral claim in Belgium, with Bovaer being one of the tools used by the food giant to obtain this label claim.

DairyReporter contacted DSM-Firmenich to find out more about the label claims it enables with regards to methane reductions. Mark van Nieuwland, VP Bovaer at DSM-Firmenich, said: “Our customers typically don’t zoom in on methane specifically when making consumer claims - they either aim for a ‘lower footprint’ claim, or a ‘more sustainable’ claim, and integrate Bovaer as an example in their overall storyline.

“For those that want to quantify and mention the number of tons CO2e saved, a global peer-reviewed scientific methane analysis is available, which effectively estimates the amount of methane emissions saved through the use of Bovaer. This can be used for carbon credit creation, or footprint reporting purposes.

Asked how long Bovaer would have to be used for before a company can make a label claim, Van Nieuwland said: “From the moment Bovaer is fed to the cows it reduces the methane emissions, so the claim is immediately applicable. From an advertising point of view, the usage should then be broad enough before making such claims; this is something that needs to be verified with the relevant advertising code.”

Bel says Bovaer would cut a quarter of on-farm enteric methane emissions on average, or around 400 tons, or 11,000 tons of CO2e. This commitment forms part of the company’s aim to eliminate a quarter of greenhouse gas emissions from its entire supply chain by 2035.

Asked about the progress made so far by the Bel Group, we were told by a company representative that between 2017 and 2021, the Group has reduced its milk-related carbon footprint by 8.3% through deployment of GMO-free feed in some of its supply basins as well as through using more local feed sources and deploying better management of effluents and herds. “Today, Boaver is a solution to accelerate and reinforce our actions,” a Bel representative said. “Its deployment is carried out in parallel of many other initiatives. We also work on ration efficiency, improving manure management, increasing productivity per cow, increasing protein autonomy of the farms, improving herd management, implementing carbon diagnosis in all our farms.”

In total, Bel’s Slovakian dairy basin provides 85 million liters of milk for cheese production, but the company also sources milk from France, Portugal, the Azores, and Poland. “We collect milk as close as possible to our factories, to guarantee the best possible quality,” the company spokesperson told us.

Bel has been evaluating the effects of the feed additive since early 2023 on a trial basis in France. Asked about the progress made so far – and whether there’s currently scope to introduce Bovaer to any other of its dairy basins in Europe - a company representative said: “We are studying the opportunities of deploying Bovaer feed additive across all countries. As of today, no decisions have been taken yet.”

While Bovaer is currently used as a feed additive and therefore is not suitable for pasture-based farming, DSM-Firmenich is working on a ‘slow-release form’ of Bovaer, which can be fed to cows when they visit the milking station. Van Nieuwland explained: “Already in 2019, with initial prototypes we have demonstrated that it’s possible to effectively reduce methane emissions in pasture-based cattle. We are now optimizing these prototypes from a cost and manufacturability perspective, and running some further tests. As soon as those results are available we will publish them, like we have always done. And this is just one of the many examples that is currently in the pipeline.”

Related topics Manufacturers Cheese Sustainability

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