M&S spending $1.3M on diet plan for cows to reduce methane farts and burps

U.K. food retailer M&S is looking in every possible direction to cut back on greenhouse gas emissions and hit its ambitious net-zero targets. Its latest target? The much-aligned flatulent dairy cow.

The retailer announced a £1 million ($1.3 million) initiative to work with its 40 partnered dairy farmers to change the diet of their milk-producing cows.

It is hoped that the change will reduce the amount of methane produced in the cows’ stomach during digestion, which is then emitted into the air through farts and burps. 

M&S expects the scheme to save 11,000 tons of greenhouse gases from escaping into the atmosphere every year, which would represent an 8.4% decrease in the retailer’s fresh milk carbon footprint. 

“I talk a lot about the ‘magic of M&S’—and a key part of this is our commitment to innovation,” said M&S CEO Stuart Machin in a statement.  

“It’s in our DNA and, along with our unique model of own brand, long term supplier partnerships, it’s how we deliver the quality and trust our customers expect from us.”

M&S is aiming to become carbon neutral across its entire supply chain by 2040. Alongside its methane announcement, the group teased the rollout of a system to use AI to predict optimal heating, ventilating, and air conditioning in its stores at any given time.

Flatulent cows

The threat cows pose to the climate has long been understood by scientists. Livestock, primarily cattle, are responsible for between 11% and 17% of global greenhouse gas emissions, according to analysis from the Breakthrough Institute. 

Methane traps much more heat than the more commonly discussed carbon dioxide, making it a big priority for scientists in addressing climate change.

Global methane emissions had their fourth-highest annual increase ever in 2022, with Stephen Porder, a professor of ecology and assistant provost for sustainability at Brown University, saying cows in particular were to blame.

Former New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern proposed a so-called “fart tax” on the animals in 2022 but was met with fierce opposition by farmers.

In addition to the methane emitted by cows when they burp and fart, the animals are incredibly resource-intensive.

However, sustained demand for red meat means scientists are looking to innovation to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide emitted by cows, rather than making moves to reduce the amount of cows in the agricultural process.

The problem has caught the attention of Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates.

The billionaire participated in Breakthrough Energy’s $12 million Phase 2 seeding round last year. The group designs a seaweed supplement for cattle that helps them reduce their methane emission. 

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