THE red meat industry's promise of becoming carbon neutral by 2030 looks to be under increasing pressure with new research showing methane-busting red seaweeds may do more harm than good.
Research at Wageningen University in the Netherlands shows that while macroalgae can significantly reduce methane emissions from livestock, they also contain bromoforms - potentially a toxic, carcinogenic solvent.
The findings have been discounted by the Australian company seeking to commercialise red seaweed. Read FutureFeed's comments later in this article.
(Clarification: Mette Olaf Nielsen from Aahus Univeristy was wrongly identified in an earlier version of this article as the lead researcher of the project.)
The Dutch research confirmed the bromoforms did not accumulate in animal tissue. However, they were excreted in milk and urine.
Pictures published with the report show alarming damage to the rumen wall, including hemorrhages, ulcers and damage to papillae.
Papillae play a key role in the rumen, increasing the surface area of the organ to allow better absorption of digested nutrients.
"It is possible that the findings of rumen wall abnormalities... were not related to the consumption of seaweed," the research paper says.
"Further studies in a well-controlled setting are required to evaluate if the feeding of A. taxiformis may have a detrimental effect on rumen wall characteristics."
The report also noted that cattle regularly refused their feed or distinctively selected against A. taxiformis.
In Australia, ruminant animals account for about 12 per cent of the national greenhouse gas emissions.
CSIRO research shows that Asparagopsis mixed with regular cattle feed at a rate of 100 grams/cow/day reduced methane production by an impressive 90pc.
THE Australian company commercialising the use of red seaweed as a methane reduction tool has dismissed the seemingly damning findings of Wageningen University, saying the Dutch institution engaged in unethical research.
A statement issued to Queensland Country Life by Brisbane-based company FutureFeed says it is completely confident in the safety of Asparagopsis when used as recommended, based on feed inclusion studies.
"The... research further reinforces the proven, practical, and safe inclusion levels that have been demonstrated consistently in the foundation studies on the safety and efficacy of low levels of Asparagopsis (minimum effective level) to reduce methane from ruminant livestock," the statement reads.
"The Wageningen study proves that dairy cows need to be subjected to a state of disregard for animal welfare and forced through feed deprivation to a state of high risk to fatal injury before bromoform can be detected in the milk.
"Unethical research is much more dangerous for cows than seaweed.
"It (Asparagopsis) is a proven performer."
The Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority said the reduction of methane production did not meet the definition of a health, production or performance claim, and was therefore excluded from the agvet legislation.
"On this basis, the APVMA has no jurisdictional control over the use of red seaweed in this manner," an APVMA statement issued to Queensland Country Life reads.
"In addition, animal foods intended to reduce the production of methane do not meet the definition of a veterinary chemical product and accordingly are not regulated by the APVMA.
The control of animal feeds is a state responsibility, and the establishment of any maximum allowable levels for any contaminants present in the feed would lie within state control."
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