Top Down Control: French company says it will cut cows’ methane by 30 percent |

Top Down Control: French company says it will cut cows’ methane by 30 percent

Danone, a food company based in France, announced on Jan. 17, 2023, together with the Environmental Defense Fund, a plan to drastically cut their milk providers’ methane output.

This, in an effort to meet its new climate commitment “to lower methane emissions 30 percent by 2030.”

The World Health Organization reports that in 2021, 828 million people, or 9.8 percent of the world population, were affected by hunger.

 John Tauzel, EDF’s methane leader, said “people need vital nutrition. They need economic activity to remain vital. Everything we do addresses climate change.”

Danone’s plan puts the onus directly on dairy farmers. “Danone targets a 30 percent absolute reduction in methane emissions from fresh milk used in its dairy products,” says the news release. In an e-mail Danone indicates that it will impact “heat waves” and “drought” by changes enacted on dairies.

Dr. Galen Erickson, a University of Nebraska-Lincoln Beef Feedlot Extension Specialist, said, as far as the beef industry, “we have data showing the grasslands completely offset the emissions of cattle in some years and we are measuring more.”

When asked if the methane and carbon dioxide produced by cattle is a problem, Erickson said “some would say no.”

There is interesting research showing that methane isn’t as bad as everyone always thought, he said.

“Researchers are saying, ‘look methane isn’t a real culprit. It is degraded pretty quickly to carbon dioxide and then recycled. It hasn’t increased from old times because we have always had natural ruminant grazing in place.’”

Penn State research has shown that the plains bison were producing about 85 percent as much methane as is produced today, he said. As for the carbon dioxide increase in the past century, it is unrelated to ruminant production, he said.

Cattle that are consuming grain produce less methane per unit of energy than cattle eating straight forage, he said.

However, this is not an argument to feed more grain, he said, because the grasslands are instrumental in taking up carbon, and obviously feeding more grain in many livestock operations is not financially feasible or productive.

“In many ways, I think our current system has been optimized. We have about 95 million head in our current herd, including dairy and beef, and we produce more beef than Brazil with about 220 million head. Starting all the way at the ranch level with reproduction rates, replacement rates, the speed with which we bring cattle to market, and a faster growing and finishing method. Per cow exposed, we are the most efficient on the planet,” he said.

Neither an all-grain system or an all-grass system is the answer, he said.

 As far as reducing methane 30 percent by 2030, Erickson said food companies are trying to reduce their “carbon footprints” and are looking to the food producers to make changes.

While cattle methane emissions may be essentially a net zero, and are not “part of the problem,” if cattle methane emissions can be cut, the beef industry could be “a part of the solution,” said Erickson.

R-CALF USA’s private property rights committee chair, Shad Sullivan, said he believes the climate change movement is “anti-meat” and that the ultimate impact of climate change policies will be a loss of independent agriculture.

“The unintended impact is going to be loss of control on production,” he said. “Producers will lose control of their production methods, and will have to meet standards and be evaluated by third parties in order to enter the market system,” Top-down control rather than what he calls bottom-up control of food production will result in food insecurity, he said.

The recently passed Inflation Reduction Act allocated $20 billion to farm conservation programs, Tauzel said. The EDF would like to see incentives for manure management and possibly feed additives on dairies.

Dr. Erickson said he believes that in the future, food companies will enact incentive programs such as this.

However, he said that historically, when incentives are introduced, after 50 percent or more of those incentivized adopt the practice, the incentive is dropped, and non-participators are instead discounted or completely unable to access the market.

He also wonders whether or not consumers will pay higher prices for “those practices they view as climate smart,” especially when they learn that beef cattle are not the climate problem they once thought. Without increased consumer spending, the companies will likely not continue incentives.

Currently the existing solutions “don’t really improve on farm yields,” Tauzel said, so incentivizing farmers may be needed, his group believes.

As to whether or not spending tax dollars may be counter-intuitive (maybe the tax dollars themselves were made in a less environmentally-friendly way than the dairy itself), he said, “Congress decides where that money comes from.”

“We have a lot of mouths to feed,” said Sullivan. “If you can’t turn non-edible forage into a highly nutrient dense food, you can’t feed the world. You can’t even feed your own family,” he said.

“Communist countries are an example of top down control. The people have lost control of their production.” This loss of control segue ways into food insecurity, then national insecurity. It’s a snowball effect, said Sullivan.

Organizations or individual ranchers might try to pass sustainability policy or “sign on” to sustainability actions, but the unintended consequence will be a movement away from the production and consumption of red meat, says Sullivan. “That’s what the term ‘sustainability’ has turned into. It’s production and consumption control,” he said.

Erickson agreed with Sullivan’s comments on the cow’s ability to turn forage that can’t be used by humans into edible protein.

“Our math says that 85 to 86 percent of all feed needs in the US beef system are forages and  products not edible for humans,” he said.

Cattle produce beef by grazing marginal lands and using by products, Erickson said. “Ruminants are excellent at recycling. You don’t get any food off that land if you don’t raise ruminants on it.”


While Danone calls itself a world leader in four businesses: Essential Dairy and Plant-Based Products, Early Life Nutrition, Medical Nutrition and Waters, it’s goals in this movement focus entirely on the people with the cows.

The Environmental Defense Fund President Fred Krupp, insists that methane from cattle is an issue. “Cutting methane emissions is one of the fastest and most effective ways to slow climate change,” adding that the dairy sector can play a role in driving these reductions while ‘boosting farmer livelihoods and increasing food security and nutrition.’

 Tauzel said “if we can make meaningful reductions in methane, we can slow global warming,” which will “give us time” to address carbon dioxide, which is “harder to pull out of the atmosphere,” he said.

Tauzel said three of EDF and Danone’s goals are:

  • Demonstrate over time that the dairy sector is improving productivity per cow
  • Policy/investment in rumen research and manure research
  • Better incentives and financing for farmers to implement these projects.

His organization has found that through markets, science and policy they can bring “pragmatic solutions.”

Different manure management and enteric methane inhibiting products (feed additives to reduce methane emission) are two ideas Tauzel mentioned. He also discussed feed changes. “Are you feeding high quality forage on the feed and nutrition side, do you your cows have enough feed so you are maximizing production?”

Erickson said changing the diets of cattle is not going to decrease methane production from cattle by 50 percent. “I believe if we will cut methane from cattle by 30-50 percent, it won’t be from feed ration ingredients rations, it will be natural and chemical feed additives like Bovaer,” he said.

As far as measuring the amount of methane each cow produces, Tauzel said more research dollars are needed to determine if individually identifying and measuring each cow’s output is needed or if it can be done on a farm by farm basis. He said “more milk per cow” is the goal.

Some believe the climate change argument is being used to push a mandatory animal identification program for livestock.

Erickson said he’s not sure. “I think traceability either on groups or individuals could be a requirement for any incentive-based production system,” he said. That tracking could be done on a group basis, or individual basis, he said.

There are entire industries being built on regulation to enact “someone’s view of sustainability,” said Sullivan.

“It’s less complex than they make it. I do believe we will cut methane produced by cattle,” Erickson said. Feed additives or slight feed alterations will likely be the answer, he said, but he doesn’t expect the changes to dramatically impact performance.