21 July 2021- Animal agriculture has sometimes had an awkward relationship with the climate-change movement, feeling unfairly vilified for its contributions to greenhouse gas emissions (which, after all, are being made in the process of creating nutritious food to sustain a growing population), as well as underappreciated for the substantial increases in productivity it has achieved (along with the reductions in resources used to achieve the same level of output).
However, more and more livestock producers are looking for a way not to be an antagonist in the climate change story, but an ally; not to deny climate change and animal agriculture’s connection with greenhouse gas emissions, but to reduce those emissions.
It is an emotional moment for Maik Kindermann. As head of the R&D program for Clean Cow at DSM, he has spent over a decade working on the problem of reducing methane production in cattle. Now on the cusp of launching the project’s first product, Bovaer® (based around a chemical compound abbreviated 3-NOP), Mr. Kindermann sat down with Feedinfo to talk about the long road to development of the methane inhibitor and the company’s vision of supporting an agriculture sector as it engages with one of humanity’s most urgent problems.
[Feedinfo] The Clean Cow project has been ongoing for over 10 years now. Can you give us a bit of history about the project? How did it all begin?
[Maik Kindermann] DSM started a companywide initiative called “Climate Changed Induced Innovation” in 2007 triggered by the company’s recognition that the private sector also needed to address the major challenges that society faces, with climate change ranking very high among these challenges. I would argue that this initiative, and DSM’s early interest in methane reduction from ruminants, were both quite visionary, because the international community from academia and industry interested in methane reduction was much smaller than it is today, with most of the focus on carbon dioxide reduction instead.
When I joined DSM in 2008, I had no animal nutrition background and hence was something of a “clean slate” without preformed opinions on this matter. When I began working with a small team on this challenge, I was trying to understand the molecular details behind ruminant methane formation, thereby approaching it from a very different perspective than others before me.
From there we built up the research infrastructure and started the research program that resulted in the development of 3-NOP (Bovaer®) during 2010. The steps required to move such a development forward included a) in-vitro testing, b) early safety assessment and c) testing it in feeding trials and measuring the effect on methane emissions, and subsequently the relevant registration, efficacy and safety studies. It sounds very straightforward and simple when you put it on paper, but in reality this was an exciting journey all the way.
[Feedinfo] DSM has carried out over 40 trials over the course of bringing Bovaer® to this point, which seems remarkable for a single pre-market ruminant product. What can you tell us about your approach to research and trials for this project? Why was this necessary in this case?
[Maik Kindermann] Finding the first trial sites early in the project was not always easy. Before we showed strong and consistent effects on methane reduction, people did not know us and so we had to wait in line with our application for a trial. Determination and resilience were key here. With a growing number of consistent results, this situation changed and for some years now we have received more requests to join research activities than we can handle.
My own expectations also needed to be corrected. Initially I was convinced that a small number of consistent trial results would be enough for a commercial launch. However, I eventually learned that there was a strong regional aspect when it comes to animal nutrition development; people always want to be sure that Bovaer® works with their animals and in their feeding systems, and this was the most common argument for additional trials in many regions of the world. This was an interesting discovery for me.
Based on this logic, we have completed over 40 trials to date, and demonstrated that Bovaer® always works, no matter where it is being applied, and that results only differ depending on the dose, form and application in relation to the animal's diet.
Such long-term projects are only possible with a strong and enthusiastic team and continuous support of senior leadership. I believe it requires an intrinsic passion to find real solutions to fight climate change and have the stamina to see them through to maturity.
[Feedinfo] What have been the most important outcomes of those trials? What have you seen when applying Bovaer® in different cattle herds around the world?
[Maik Kindermann] The most important outcome is the consistency of the effect in reducing methane without negative effects on the animal.
This consistency is reflected in 47 scientific peer-reviewed publications (as of June 2021) which puts this development in a unique position and has generated great trust and confidence globally.
The trials showed that Bovaer® can consistently achieve an enteric methane reduction of ~30%, with some trials demonstrating reductions as high as 90%. This reduction equals 1ton CO2e per dairy cow per year. As a consequence Bovaer® has received considerable external recognition, which for me shows the increased importance placed by the public in efforts to reduce methane emissions as a powerful contributor to global climate change mitigation. It is validation that we are truly doing something meaningful. Among the most significant:
• UC Davis published a study for the California Air Resources Board comparing all options to reduce enteric methane and ranked 3-NOP highest
• Bill Gates mentioned 3-NOP in his book How to Avoid a Climate Disaster
• The World Resources Institute mentioned 3-NOP as one of the strategies in their publication “How to Sustainably Feed 10 Billion People by 2050.”
• Climate & Clean Air coalition emphasizing the importance, benefits, and costs of mitigating methane emissions, observing that a 45% reduction in methane emissions across all sectors would lead to 0.3 degrees of avoided warming.
[Feedinfo] Addressing enteric methane emissions through a dedicated feed additive product is still relatively new—it’s not completely unprecedented, but the concept is still largely in its infancy. What does that mean in terms of DSM’s strategy for obtaining regulatory approval or for reaching out and educating the market about the product’s benefits?
[Maik Kindermann] Having a product which consistently works is one thing, and getting a product with a methane reduction claim registered is another. In the EU, we are fortunate that there is a category for feed additives with an environmental benefit; in other regions we’re forced to look for other options under which such a product can be registered. This has been one of the reasons why we commenced registration in EU as one of the first markets. As a matter of fact, we are the first product ever to commence registration in this environmental category in the EU.
Beyond this work on regulatory pathways, we have also worked significantly on scaling up methane measurement techniques. For example, we worked with C-Lock in the validation of their Greenfeed systems for use in FDA registration trials.
We believe our work, and the example we have set, has helped to pave the way for other feed additives with an environmental benefit. This is important, as our planet will need as many consistently proven, effective and safe technologies as possible to help in the fight against climate change, while providing healthy and nutritious food to a growing population.
[Feedinfo] Will users of Bovaer® see performance increases that help offset the cost of the additive? To what extent will the product pay for itself (rather than relying on price premiums for “greener” or more climate-friendly milk or beef from the cows fed on it)?
[Maik Kindermann] At the start of the project over 10 years ago, the topic of reducing livestock’s carbon footprint as part of sustainable food production systems was not so prominent.
That has changed substantially, and the Paris 2015 climate agreement was certainly a catalyst in this respect. Dairy and beef producers are shifting their mindsets and starting to embrace the position that, instead of being lumped in as part of the problem, they can participate as part of the solution in a move towards sustainable food production systems.
We see consumers demanding more sustainable products and FMCG companies are making sustainability commitments to become net zero. With over 45 trials, and extensive external validation, Bovaer® fits perfectly with their ambitions and climate-friendly strategies and is helping them to deliver on their sustainability targets.
Greener premiums and carbon markets will therefore play an important role, particularly with the early adopters. These early adopters are companies that are leading in sustainability, want to deliver on changing consumer demand and understand the importance of methane. They will incentivize the farmers for lower footprint beef and dairy.
[Feedinfo] Bovaer® is expected to reach the market in 2022. What can you tell us about the plans for roll-outs in specific regions? What are your objectives for the product in its first year of commercial sales?
[Maik Kindermann] We’re making good progress on getting the regulatory approval from EFSA; we expect Bovaer® to be commercial in the EU in early 2022.
The registration filing for several other regions / geographies has already started and we anticipate that in some of those we will also receive market clearance in the course of 2022.
In the meantime, as you might have seen, we have collaborations with a number of dairy and beef companies globally
[Feedinfo] What’s next for the Clean Cow project, or for the development of the Bovaer® product in particular?
[Maik Kindermann] We are always thinking about how we can “reach the next cow”, as the more cows we can reach, the higher the benefit for our planet. Current developments therefore focus particularly on new formulations and new applications, thereby making it easier and easier for farmers with diverse agricultural and feeding practices to use Bovaer® in their day-to-day activities
In parallel, we are working on getting the product registered in carbon accounting systems to help the farmers using the product be recognized for their efforts in reducing the carbon footprint.
Published in association with DSM Nutritional Products