The dairy industry has occasionally been criticized when it comes to the environment, and greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) are a big part of it—not only due to poor waste handling, but also the cow’s digestive system, which is known for spewing out methane (CH4), a GHG. 

Three companies based in the Netherlands have embarked on a large-scale pilot to test a feed additive, which shows promise in reducing methane emissions from cows’ digestive systems by approximately 30%. Following the EU’s approval for the additive’s use in February 2022, the Dutch feed supplier Agrifirm will supply the feed additive to some 200 participating FrieslandCampina dairy farms during the second half of this year. Dutch-based Royal DSM developed the feed additive Bovaer over the last decade.

According to DSM, Bovaer added daily to each cow’s feed has shown a consistent reduction in methane emissions on average of 30%. The feed additive is said to work in other ruminant animals as well, and just a quarter of a teaspoon added to each cow’s feed daily is all that is needed. 

DSM has committed to reducing GHG emissions in dairy production by 20% and has been getting worldwide approvals for the additive. Since the end of last year, Bovaer has been approved for use in Brazil and Chile—and at the start of 2022, received EU approval.

“Our ultimate goal is for all of our dairy products to be climate neutral,” says Hein Schumacher, CEO of Royal FrieslandCampina. “Though we can’t achieve this overnight, we’re working toward it. In addition to solutions like switching to green energy—preferably generated by our members—reducing the greenhouse gas emissions of our cows is one of the routes towards reaching our climate goal.”

Dimitri de Vreeze, Co-CEO of Royal DSM, adds, “Cutting methane emissions is the fastest way to combat global warming, as was underlined during the most recent UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow. I’m proud that we, FrieslandCampina and DSM, can offer dairy farmers a solution that will help to make a major contribution toward tackling one of the greatest challenges of our time. Collaboration, new ways of thinking and pioneering innovations are crucial to making dairy farming more sustainable. It’s important that dairy farmers are rewarded for their sustainability performance.”

During the pilot, the results and experiences of farmers will be gathered through workshops and surveys. The economic aspects, together with the costs and benefits, will be considered as well. FrieslandCampina will ensure that every dairy farmer receives fair payment for the supplied milk and reward for the sustainability efforts they make on their farm.

Usage questions explained

The use of the additive naturally raises several basic questions. We spoke with DSM’s André Elsen-van-der for further details. 

FE: How does the additive work in a cow to reduce methane emissions? 

Elsen-van-der: Cows consume grass and other fibrous feeds. During the digestive process, hydrogen gas and CO2 are produced, which are then converted by a specific set of micro-organisms into methane gas. This is then exhaled and burped out by the cow. When Bovaer is added to the daily diet of cows, it prevents the micro-organisms from generating methane.

FE: Is it safe for the cow? 

Elsen-van-der: Bovaer is the most extensively studied and scientifically proven solution to the challenge of burped methane to date. Upon feeding, it takes effect immediately. After suppressing methane production in the stomach, it is broken down into compounds already naturally present in the cow’s stomach.  

Bovaer is safe; it has been in development for over 10 years with 45 on-farm trials, showing safety and efficacy. More than 48 peer reviewed scientific studies have also been published. For all trials, there were no negative effects observed. Animal health and behavior were fully preserved. After approval in Brazil and Chile, we received a positive European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) opinion for the use of Bovaer in the European Union in November 2021. The EFSA opinion confirms that the feed additive reduces enteric methane emissions from dairy cows and is safe for the animal and the consumer. The EU member states now also approved the marketing of Bovaer in the EU.

FE: Does the additive has any effect on milk production or the quality/flavor of the milk or beef when harvested?

Elsen-van-der: No. We have conducted extensive trials and taste panels for both dairy and beef produce. Results have shown no negative effect or made any difference to the end product. Also, trials conducted by processors have highlighted no questions from a manufacturability perspective.

Dosing questions explained

FE: Since it only takes a quarter of a teaspoon added to the cow’s feed on a daily basis, how do you ensure accurate and precise mixing in bulk quantities? 

Elsen-van-der: Bovaer will not be used in its pure active form on the farm, DSM first produces a product form with 10% Bovaer in it, which be further diluted for ease of use into a Farmpack, Mineral Mix or Pellets which are then included on farm into the total ration. Methane can be measured by different techniques and together with various research partners, DSM has tested them all and published the results. 

Based on the extensive research, a predictive model can be established, which incorporates diet and daily dosage of Bovaer. This is then validated by government agencies responsible for the national inventory and/or carbon credit agencies. 

DSM has established a verification methodology for feed additives reducing enteric methane. This has been certified by the Gold Standard foundation in 2018. 

It is increasingly important that farmers are able to track and measure on-farm environmental footprint. Methane reduction results achieved with Bovaer can be incorporated in digital farm environmental foot printing tools locally already in use or tools like DSM’s Sustell.

FE: What is the effect on a cow if it consumes more than the recommended daily dosing? 

Elsen-van-der: The daily doses can vary, depending on the results you want to achieve. There is no issue if a cow eats more of it on a given day, obviously within reasonable margins and the regulatory limits set as with any food/feed.

FE: When will the additive be available in the States? 

Elsen-van-der: DSM is following the normal registration procedures in the U.S.—the same as the company has been doing in Brazil, Chile and Europe.