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by Kelly Secrest August 19, 2020 4 min read

What is Asparagopsis Taxiformis?

Asparagopsis Taxiformis is a red seaweed that grows in the tropics and warm-temperate areas of the Atlantic and Indo-Pacific.  It was introduced into the Mediterranean and first discovered in the early 1800s in Alexandria, Egypt.  Rarely found in the United States, this seaweed prefers warm water but can be located in Southern California.  Seaweed contains collagens that have been proven to be beneficial for hydration, skin, and provide antioxidants and nutrients such as iodine, B vitamins, and iron.  Scientists have focused on cultivating this seaweed through aquaculture operations because harvesting seaweed from the wild is not a viable option.  It would be harmful to the oceans and would cause environmental problems.


The Problem with Cows and Methane

The world contains approximately 1.5 billion cows and many billions of other animals that release methane through belching and emitting gas during the digestive process.  Livestock emits 14.5 percent of global greenhouse gases, so it is essential to focus on this area.  Methane is known to be thirty times worse than carbon dioxide and is considered one of the most potent greenhouse gases.  Dairy cattle and the beef industry are a significant contributor to greenhouse gases.   Methane is a polluting natural gas consisting of carbon and hydrogen capable of removing the carbon from the air and is very detrimental to the environment.  Methane contributes to climate change because it can trap heat in the atmosphere.  Methane is released through human activities, such as fossil fuel extraction and agricultural practices, and is a significant contributor to climate change issues.  This is a problem that affects humans as high concentrations of the gas can displace the oxygen in the air.  When there is less oxygen available, symptoms like rapid breathing, rapid heart rate, and fatigue develop.

Forests are being cut down to create room for new pasture.  Through this process, carbon dioxide is released into the air from the forests.  As the demand for beef increases, this puts lots of pressure on expanding pastures and eliminating the forests.  Beef and lamb require significantly more pasture than the production of other foods such as dairy, corn, wheat, and even meats such as pork.  During the past quarter-century alone, forests have been cleared from an area the size of India.  This is called deforestation, and it is predicted to increase the global emissions drastically enough to raise the temperatures 1.5 to 2 degrees.


Why is this "Magic" Seaweed so Useful?

Studies show that the quantity of methane produced by livestock during their digestive process could be significantly reduced by adding seaweed to the cattle feed (Research at CSIRO and James Cook University).  It is only necessary to add the seaweed as two percent or less of the dry feed for this reduction.  The halogen compounds in this seaweed are capable of inhibiting methane production.  In short-term studies, lactating dairy cows decreased livestock’s methane emission by 80 percent, and the feed intake and milk yields were not affected.

Photography Credit: Physics Organization

What It Can Do Globally

If this red seaweed is used on a global scale, it can make the production of beef sustainable and serve as a large scale solution for industrial cattle.  We must be careful to prevent inadvertent side effects, such as destroying ocean habitats by harvesting seaweed.  Scientists are looking at growing Asparagopsis as a crop and producing beef sustainably on a global level to help the long-term health of the environment.  Since 1961, meat production around the world has doubled.  Either eliminating the methane produced or reducing consumption of these red meats would help the environments and the oceans as it can stop water degradation, acid rain, coral reef degradation, and deforestation.


Organizations Making This a Reality

Greener Grazing is a project that is currently leading the world’s efforts to make  Asparagopsis Taxiformisa wide-scale solution to eliminate the methane emissions from livestock.  It has been proven that adding this seaweed to feed is effective in the short term, and there is further research into the long term efficiency of the solution.

Another challenge is accustoming the cows to the taste of the seaweed.  Cows can safely consume seaweed, and some have been known to consume seaweed when on beaches.  However, many are not fond of the seaweed taste.  It was found through a study that when introduced into their food supply as only .75 percent of their diet, there was a decrease in the amount of food they would consume.
Finding ways to efficiently and cheaply freeze and grind the seaweed is another area that must be further brainstormed.  Currently, it is a huge undertaking to add this seaweed and can be quite expensive.  The Asparagopsis Taxiformis  used for current research is imported from Australia, Europe, and Asia and is not sold or cultivated.  Because of this, divers are hired to retrieve it from the wild, which is one reason for the high prices.  However, it would be cost-efficient to grow this seaweed at a large scale on ocean farms for global use.

The research and reality of using this seaweed have been confirmed with a lot of progress, and it is promising that in the near future, our world will become more sustainable in raising industrial cattle.

You can make a difference by consuming less beef and other meats that use significantly more land and resources.  There are many options to change your eating habits safely. Many stores and restaurants now offer plant-based burgers and blended meat-plant alternatives.  There are many ways to get proper nutrition and protein, such as beans, tofu, nuts, and seeds.  Your efforts will help the planet, but research shows that you can improve your health as eating less red meat can decrease the risk of cancer and heart disease or stroke.  Eating more plant-based meals can lower the amount of saturated fat you consume.  Studies have shown that vegetarians live six to nine years longer and are more likely to smoke and drink less and keep up a steady exercise routine.


Photography Credit: Greener Grazing

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