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Research would look for low-emitter cattle

A proposed multimillion-dollar national research program will seek to help beef producers breed cattle that emit less methane, which is a potent greenhouse gas linked to climate change.

“This is a substantial investment,” said John Basarab, head of beef operations at Livestock Gentec.

“But I feel strongly that this is an investment that the beef cattle industry needs to pay to address societal concerns regarding greenhouse gas emissions from their production system.”

Scientists have applied for federal funding to start looking for molecular breeding values for genetic traits that reduce methane, said Basarab. The proposed initiative depends on receiving approval from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), he added.

He expected the cost will be in the millions of dollars because it will include emissions monitoring equipment priced at more than US$100,000 per unit. It will also require numerous researchers to operate such devices at several locations across Canada, he said.

The project will attempt to do for the beef industry what a similar Canadian research initiative did for the dairy industry, said Basarab. Lactanet and Semex were recently honoured with an International Dairy Federation Award for Innovation in Climate Action for their work helping develop the Methane Efficiency Evaluation for Holstein dairy cattle.

The United Nations Environment Programme has said methane is about 80 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide during the first 20 years after it is released. It described agriculture as the leading contributor of atmospheric methane, with livestock accounting for roughly 32 percent of methane emissions.

However, the Canadian Roundtable for Sustainable Beef’s National Beef Sustainability Assessment and Strategy Report said the country’s cattle industry has significantly lowered its greenhouse gas emissions. It said levels were reduced by 15 percent for each kilogram of boneless and consumed beef between 2014 and 2021.

More beef is being produced by the same number of animals, improving the industry’s carbon footprint because fewer resources are needed, said the report.

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