Morrisons has launched a three-year trial into the use of seaweed from the UK to help reduce methane production in cattle.
The retailer has partnered with Queen’s University Belfast on the project with the aim of evaluating the nutritional value of seaweed and assess its potential to cut emissions, while also improving animal health and enhancing meat and milk quality.
Morrisons said early data from the project was “promising” and indicated seaweed from the North and Irish Seas was not only effective in reducing methane, but was also potentially preferable to the imported red seaweed tested in other studies.
Research published earlier this year in the PLOS One scientific journal found cows belched out 82% less methane after putting a small amount of red seaweed in their feed.
Indigenous UK-sourced seaweed contains active compounds called phlorotannins which are safe and often found in red wine and red berries. Phlorotannins are also anti-bacterial and improve immunity, providing additional health benefits for cows.
Working with its beef farmers, Morrisons said it would “take the learnings out of the lab and put them to practice in the fields”.
It said it also planned to work with UK fishermen who already supplied its stores, to source seaweed which would then be converted into a supplement.
Professor Sharon Huws, professor of animal science and microbiology at Queen’s Institute for Global Food Security is leading the research programme, which also includes access for a PhD student to manage trials in methane reduction on commercial partner farms.
“We are excited to publish our lab research in due course. This is showing that, of several UK seaweeds tested in the lab, at least one is indicating a reduction in methane production,” she said.
“The next step will be to trial the effective seaweeds as nutritional supplements for cows and this will be managed by a Morrisons-funded PhD student. This is a truly innovative partnership between a retailer and researchers. The involvement of Morrisons means effective methane reduction can be rolled out to Morrisons farmers’ herds of beef cows, and the seaweed needed can be sourced through its relationships with fisheries.”
Morrisons was “very mindful” of its role “in supporting and inspiring the farmers we work with to help them achieve goals in sustainable farming”, said its head of agriculture Sophie Throup.
“By supporting this PhD studentship and wider research we are trialling this natural approach to reducing the environmental emissions caused by burps and flatulence from cows – as well as improving the quality of beef products.”