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Environment, farms aim to reduce emissions

In nutrition, one of the keys to reducing the impact of methane thanks to natural supplements

Interview with Prof. Carlo Angelo Sgoifo Rossi, Department of Veterinary Medicine and Animal Sciences of the University of Milan.

Producing more meat, especially in areas of the world where there is still a lack of animal protein in the diet, impacting less on the environment. This is the great challenge that the world of livestock production is facing in the context of the global commitments undertaken by 197 countries after the COP 26 climate change conference. The agricultural sector has a minor impact on world emissions, of the order of 14%, but farms contribute significantly, especially as regards methane emissions. Hence the commitment of the sector to reduce impacts. 

We talk about it with prof. Carlo Angelo Sgoifo Rossi, full professor of the Department of Veterinary Medicine and Animal Sciences of the University of Milan, a pioneer in Italy of studies on the environmental impacts of animal husbandry in general, and of cattle breeding in particular. "In Italy we are more virtuous because the contribution of animal husbandry on emissions is only 7% of the total, however there is still a collective effort to reduce by all the players in the supply chains", explains prof. Sgoifo Rossi. “I state that the most recent studies on biogenic carbon have shown that the methane component makes CO2 emissions of animal origin very different from those originating from transport or industrial processes, as they re-enter the natural cycle in a very short time. Having said that - continues Sgoifo Rossi - various ways can be taken to contain and limit methane emissions, starting with improving production efficiency with the same input (nutrition, number of animals on the farm, use of water, etc. .): working on these parameters improves production without increasing resources use and also creates a better breeding from the point of view of animal welfare". 

What are other possibilities to intervene?

"Another topic we have been working on for 15 years", continues Sgoifo Rossi, who holds a course on Nutrition and environmental impact, "is the optimization of animal digestion and, in particular, rumen fermentations. Ruminants have the wonderful ability to transform plant fiber, something that no monogastric animal can do efficiently, but with a process that involves the production of H+ protons that are formed from the degradation of the fibrous component and which must necessarily be eliminated to ensure the animal health. Here the production of methane is born. But through a correct balance of diets, the production of this gas can be reduced while fully respecting the health of the animal. It must be said that confined or protected farms, where there is maximum optimization of feed management, with a balanced use of the fibrous components, have less impact than grazing, where production is decidedly less efficient. In this type of breeding, which is the most widespread, strategies can be applied, as the use of natural feeds to modulate the microbial populations found within the rumen and which carry out the fermentation process of what is ingested. Approximately, 80% of what a ruminant puts in its mouth is completely transformed in the rumen and by intervening on the fermentation it is actually possible to reduce methanogenesis while fully respecting the animal's health. In practice, bacterial populations with a more efficient and positive fermentation activity are favored, optimizing nutrition for the animal and reducing the production of components that can be annoying for the animal and for the environment".
Can you give some examples of these dietary natural supplements? How do they work?

There are several products on the market, but there are few with environmental validation, such as Rumitech, Agolin and Anavrin. Several studies carried on in the last twenty years and which have involved researchers from many universities, shown significant effectiveness of the synergic combination of essential oils, tannins and bioflovanoids specially selected to support and improve the function of the rumen. In particular, studies have shown that natural plant components contained in Anavrin, specifically essential oils, are able to find the ideal balance to reduce methane production by optimizing digestive efficiency, while improving the well-being of the animal. The mix includes geranium oils, chestnut tannins, coriander and olive bioflavonoids. They are elements with antioxidant capacities capable of reducing the pro-inflammatory state of the animal improving health conditions. Our Department of Veterinary Medicine and Animal Sciences in Milan, as well as various international universities, have carried out various investigations on this product with consistent results: a reduction in methane emissions ranging from minimum values of 13% to even values of 25%, along with an increase in meat and milk production and positive implications in terms of animal health. In summary, an increase in the production performance , a lower intake of dry matter, a better well-being of the animals and, last but not least, a substantial reduction in the quantities of methane emitted into the atmosphere: these are the advantages of Anavrin.

Is the use of these products spreading? Is it possible to numerically quantify the benefits for the environment deriving from the reduction of emissions?

The use is spreading a lot. I believe that at the moment there are already 70-80 thousand cattle that are eating it in Italy alone. Given the positive results in all respects, use is destined to grow. Also, because Anavrin has received official validation from Carbon Trust, the authoritative international reference agency, which has recognized that Anavrin, based on the results of tests carried out in the laboratory and in the stables, can reduce emissions in ruminants. Measuring the emissions farm by farm is possible but absolutely not simple and require long time. Actually the environmental impact can be proceed with the Life Cycle Assessment method which includes the PCR rules - Product Category Rules that Europe, since 2013, has evolved into Product Footprint Category Rules - that is a serious and precise system recognized by institutions to collect and compare data related to the impact of every production activity. I am pleased to highlight that the first meat industry in Europe to have carried out this important project is an Italian company which has developed the evaluation system called "Made green in Italy". Thanks to this system, the breeders who use products like Anavrin will reduce the emissions related to the animal nutrition and the total impact of their farm, making also all the Italian supply chain truly more virtuous and comparable.

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