U.S. Nods Bovaer for Cows: A Leap in Curbing Methane Emissions

The recent regulatory approval of Bovaer (3-NOP) for use in lactating dairy cattle in the United States marks a significant milestone in the fight against agricultural methane emissions. Developed by DSM-Firmenich and commercialized in the U.S. by Elanco, Bovaer, a feed additive that inhibits an enzyme involved in methane production in ruminants, is now available in 64 countries, with more approvals anticipated this year. This development opens new avenues for reducing the dairy sector’s carbon footprint, but questions remain about who will bear the costs and what will drive its widespread adoption.

Bovaer’s journey to regulatory approval has been marked by extensive trials and pilot programs. According to DSM-Firmenich, the additive has transitioned from initial pilots to repeat use and scaling in several advanced markets. The company notes that the costs of Bovaer are typically covered by the companies benefiting from the Scope 3 emissions reductions, either individually or through consortia. In some cases, these companies integrate the reduction into premium products with a sustainability value proposition. A pilot project in Brazil is also exploring the potential of the carbon credit market as an alternative funding source.

Despite its proven efficacy, challenges to rapid adoption persist. DSM-Firmenich points out that individual companies often want to conduct their own tests before scaling, which can be time-consuming. Additionally, ambiguity around how methane reductions will be accounted for and which local standards will apply further slows widescale adoption. Historically, there have been few incentive systems to recognize producers for strong sustainability practices, necessitating the building of an ecosystem to support these efforts.

In the U.S., Elanco has been instrumental in establishing an incentive system to support Bovaer’s adoption. Katie Cook, Elanco’s VP of Livestock Sustainability, explains that the company has developed tools to quantify methane emission reductions and generate carbon credits. One such tool, Uplook, uses on-farm data and peer-reviewed science to identify the key drivers of an operation’s carbon footprint and track progress in sustainability efforts, such as using Bovaer.

For example, a producer inputs data on the number of cows and the amount of Bovaer fed per day into Uplook, which then calculates the corresponding reduction in CO2e emissions. This data can feed into systems that enable the generation of carbon credits. Elanco is working with several organizations, including Athian, a carbon insetting marketplace for livestock in the U.S. Athian verifies the data and creates credits that can be purchased by companies like Nestlé, Starbucks, or Danone, with the proceeds going back to the producer.

Cook highlights that engaging in voluntary carbon markets and securing USDA and state conservation programming could create an annual return of $20 or more per lactating cow by feeding Bovaer. This return is split between carbon marketplaces like Athian and government incentives, with the latter providing an initial tranche of funding. As government incentives phase out, the expectation is that a more robust carbon marketplace will emerge.

The U.S. dairy industry has shown significant interest, with 150 farms already enrolled on Uplook. However, some farmers remain skeptical, raising questions about payment mechanisms and timing. Elanco is working to address these concerns as they finalize RCCP grants and establish the carbon marketplace, with product availability anticipated this summer.

The driving force behind these initiatives will likely be large consumer packaged goods (CPG) companies under pressure to reduce their Scope 3 emissions. Bovaer is poised to be a crucial part of their toolkit, offering a scalable and credible solution. While other enteric methane reduction solutions are emerging, Bovaer stands out as the only FDA-reviewed feed ingredient with a methane reduction claim, backed by extensive peer-reviewed studies and on-farm trials. This credibility and scalability position Bovaer as a key player in the push for sustainable agriculture.

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