'We plan to sharply increase production in 2023-24': Methane-reduced beef trial in Sweden ‘sold out in less than a week’

By Katy Askew

- Last updated on GMT

Does supplementation answer meat's methane dilemma? / Pic: Volta Greentech
Does supplementation answer meat's methane dilemma? / Pic: Volta Greentech

Related tags Meat Methane feed Climate change GHG footprint

A collaboration between biotech company Volta Greentech, supermarket chain Coop and food company Protos saw the world’s first methane-reduced beef hit the shelves in Sweden. How did it perform? FoodNavigator asks Fredrik Åkerman, CEO Volta Greentech.

A ‘unique pilot’ was launched at the end of last month at Coop supermarkets in Sweden. From 30 June, methane-reduced beef was presented to Swedish customers under the LOME (‘Low on Methane’) brand. 

The commercial pilot project was the result of a collaboration between Coop alongside protein supplier Protos and feed biotech start-up Volta Greentech. The companies revealed LOME will be sold for a limited time in selected stores, with 500 grams of ground beef available for SEK59. This compares to 500g of standard 12% fat ground beef that retails at SEK56.5, according to prices published on the Coop’s website. At the same time, other ‘selected parts’ of the cow - such as sirloin steak and beef fillet – were released and sold at the Coop’s meat counters.

“This is a project that is really at the forefront in the field of food technology and the transition to a more sustainable food chain,”​ said Charlotta Szczepanowski, head of sustainability and quality at Coop Sweden. Szczepanowski claimed the retail multiple is the ‘first in the world’ to offer ‘our customers and members a unique product in our stores’ while continuing ‘to support Swedish food production’.  

And the concept, it would seem, has proven a hit with Swedish consumers. “LOME was very well perceived and sold almost out in all the stores in less than a week,”​ Volta Greentech CEO Fredrik Åkerman reflected.

LOME innovation answers the methane challenge

Methane is 84 times more powerful than carbon dioxide on a 20-year time horizon, according to the IPCC. Although the gas only stays in the atmosphere for around nine years, it is responsible for almost one-quarter of global warming. 

Methane emissions linked to enteric fermentation from cattle account for 5.7% of Sweden's total greenhouse gas emissions and constitute the majority of the country's methane emissions. Sweden was one of 100 signatories to the Methane Pledge agreed at COP26, establishing the target of 30% methane reduction by 2030. Addressing methane emissions from cattle is therefore an important challenge if Sweden is to achieve its climate goals.

In answer to this challenge, Sweden’s food industry is innovating to reduce the GHG footprint of animal agriculture. LOME’s launch in Coop marked the ‘final phase’ of a methane-reduction trial conducted by Volta Greentech, Protos and Coop in Gotland.

The work, which started in 2022, leverages Volta Greentech’s '100% natural' feed supplement for cattle. Volta Seafeed is based on the red algal species Asparagopsis, ​which is grown on land at Volta's pilot plant in Lysekil. 

Volta Seafeed
Volta Greentech Seafeed / Pic: Volta Greentech

As part of the project, ten bulls on Ejmund's farm in Gotland receive Volta Seafeed as part of their daily feed for three consecutive months before slaughter. The study tested different ways of feeding the animals and some touched over 90% methane reduction, with an average cut for the period of about 80%. 

“The efficacy of reducing methane emissions from cows feeding a supplement of red seaweed is connected to the dose and dosing schedule. In the pilot we evaluated which dose and dosing interval that gave the best effect. We found a good strategy giving us an average of 92% methane reduction. As far as we know, there are no other products that can achieve this methane reduction level,”​ Volta Greentech’s CEO told FoodNavigator.

New methods to ‘smoothly integrate’ the feed into the farm's daily work were discovered during the study, which will make it easier for more farms to implement the same solution in the future, the companies said.

The feed supplement can be used for both dairy and beef cattle, although the feed tech start-up is launching its commercialisation strategy in the meat sector.

In terms of the impact on human nutrition, Åkerman detailed: “The product has been proven safe for both animals and humans from a health perspective… The nutritional profile of meat is not affected by feeding cows a supplement of seaweed. For dairy we have seen an increase of iodine in milk as iodine is naturally present in the seaweed as it is grown in ocean water.”

Scaling up sustainable feed supplementation

“The results of the study have exceeded our expectations,”​ Thomas Östlund, CEO of Protos, reflected.

He believes that the trial points to a more climate-friendly future for meat production. “This paves the way for future Swedish meat production, with the right production method we show that meat is a high-quality food even from a climate point of view,”​ the chief executive enthused.

Cattle were fed Seafeed on the pilot farm in Gotland Pic Volta Greentech
Cattle were fed Seafeed on the pilot farm in Gotland / Pic: Volta Greentech

The companies have already begun planning for the future launch of additional products, it was revealed. So, how quickly can we expect methane-reduced beef to become a mainstay of meat counters in Sweden? 

Some barriers to adoption remain.

While the addition of the feed supplement does have an impact on farm production costs – Åkerman said he couldn’t share pricing ‘at this stage’ – the feed tech company is optimistic this expense won’t be prohibitive to widescale uptake. “It will always cost to reduce methane emissions. However, we are working with the beef processors and food retailers to make sure that it become a good investment for the farmer using our feed supplement to reduce emissions. We have in studies seen increased animal productivity when feeding seaweed to reduce methane emissions, but it’s too early to put a dollar value on it. More data is needed for productivity gains,”​ we were told.

In terms of expanding the initiative, Åkerman believes Volta Greentech’s own capacity is probably one of the biggest breaks slowing rollout. “Our production of the seaweed is the bottleneck when scaling up to reduce emissions. The focus now is to expand production,”​ he revealed. Volta is now building the world's first commercial land-based red algae cultivation facility alongside its pilot plant in Lysekil on Sweden's west coast. 

“Now we have done a full proof of concept, all the way from producing high quality seaweed in a controlled environment in our land based seaweed factory in Sweden, to feeding the seaweed as a supplement to cows on Ejmunds farm, to reducing 80-90% of the methane emissions from their beef cattle, to then selling the low methane beef in Swedish supermarkets,​” Åkerman reflected. “The algae has proven to be extremely effective in reducing methane emissions from cows…We plan to sharply increase production in 2023-24 to be able to feed even more cows.”

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