A new partnership will work to reduce methane emissions from production of milk around the world.
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Climate
There’s a Climate Solution in Dairy Cows’ Stomachs

Agriculture contributes a third of global greenhouse-gas emissions even as climate change is reducing farm yields and threatening the livelihoods of farmers. The number of hungry people in the world increased from 282 million to 345 million in 2022 alone. We must reverse these trends.

Carbon dioxide is the well-known villain of the climate-change story, but the problem of methane emissions deserves more attention. The methane released into the atmosphere this year will have a bigger effect on global temperatures over the next decade than carbon dioxide from all fossil-fuel use in 2023, according to Environmental Defense Fund scientist Ilissa Ocko.

The food we eat is a major methane culprit. Agriculture and livestock account for more than 40% of annual global methane emissions from human-related activities. Finding ways to reduce these emissions while still providing comprehensive sources of nutrition would be a major climate victory.

Dairy, which represents 8% of these emissions, can play a meaningful role. That’s why Danone,

one of the world’s largest dairy companies, and Environmental Defense Fund are launching a joint effort to reduce methane from dairy cattle, feed an ever-growing global population, and ensure farms are profitable now and in the future.

Danone is pledging to reduce agricultural methane emissions from its fresh milk supply 30% by 2030, aligning with the Global Methane Pledge, a commitment by 150 countries to reduce their national methane emissions by the end of the decade. EDF, with its focus on science and market-based solutions, will join with Danone to advance research, innovative financing for farmers, transparency and accountability.

In 2023 Danone will equip dozens of US and European dairy farms with new manure-management infrastructure to reduce methane emissions. In Morocco, Danone has already trained 1,600 smallholder farmers on how to increase milk yields and lower greenhouse-gas emissions per gallon of milk through better herd management and more balanced and digestible food for cattle. Over the next four years, Danone will work with local partners to scale this project and reach 10,000 small-scale farmers.

EDF will provide scientific expertise on methane reduction, support economic analysis of how methane-mitigation strategies benefit farm incomes, and review and improve reporting methods to ensure transparency.

This is the first methane-specific climate commitment by a major food company, and the first such partnership that addresses livestock methane. We are taking this step because the status quo won’t drive climate solutions or sustainable business growth.

The good news is that innovations are emerging that will allow us to reduce livestock methane emissions. Improving animal health and welfare, including through high-quality feed, can improve yields and reduce methane emissions per gallon of milk. Separating manure solids from liquids or changing how manure is stored can reduce methane from manure. Meanwhile, innovative technologies that reduce the methane created by microbes in the cow’s stomach (similar to digestive aids for humans) are already being deployed and show great promise in reducing emissions even further.

Danone isn’t starting from zero. The company is already supporting regenerative-agriculture projects in 14 countries, working with governments, business suppliers and nonprofits. Through this work we’ve seen that small dairy producers can enhance cow productivity and reduce methane emissions per gallon of milk while earning more profits. US and European dairy farms can improve manure and nutrient-cycle management to reduce methane and optimize fertilizer use on cropland. In the coming months we will accelerate our work in these areas.

While this partnership isn’t a silver bullet to address all food-related challenges, consumers will welcome it. Many want food that is nutritious and tasty, but they also want to make more climate-friendly purchasing decisions.

A big part of climate progress lies in cows’ stomachs. If we can solve this challenge, we will have made a substantial dent in heat-trapping emissions. We’ll also show that cooperation between environmentalists, governments, farmers and companies can be effective. That’s no small accomplishment.

Wisconsin dairies were among National Mastitis Council’s “cream of the crop” for producing quality milk during its Feb. 2 National Dairy Quality Awards program.

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