Burps, bubbles, and being open to change: A LIVE! Q&A with Dr. Frank Mitloehner


Let’s get one thing straight — livestock produce methane when they burp. It’s called enteric methane emissions, and it comes from the front end, not the back. That’s just the beginning of all the ways Dr. Frank Mitloehner wants people to shift their thinking when it comes to livestock and methane.

In this RealAg LIVE! Q&A, the professor from University of California, Davis, shares his views on the latest Burger King ad, why carrots — not sticks — make for real change, and how farmers need to better communicate how they do what they do.

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  • What even is Twitch?
  • Let’s just jump right in — was Burger King being “cute” with its latest marketing campaign?
  • To the good: it’s good to talk about decreasing methane production of livestock, but the content and the delivery really was not good. At all.
  • It used language that was cute to some and offensive to others, plus it made some rather outlandish claims based on unpublished research
  • Enteric emissions of methane (from livestock) is a sizeable issue for agriculture, to be sure
  • We know we CAN lower methane emissions, but lemongrass is likely one of the products with lower effectiveness. There are others that have done more and are published, but it sounds natural!
  • Seaweed is actually far more effective, but there are some issues with that, too
  • Non-natural sources are actually the most effective, but they don’t carry the feel-good story or sound as nice
  • To get down to brass tacks: The lemongrass work quoted is from a project where it is only being fed in the last 4 months of the cow’s life, which means you still have the rest of their lifetimes to produce methane. So even if you get to 33% reduction in the finishing diet (a claim which has not yet been proven in published research), you’re not actually decreasing methane significantly (more like 3% over the animals lifetime)
  • 3.3% of all greenhouse gas emissions are livestock related
  • The real culprits are outside of agriculture: 80% from three main sectors
  • What CAN livestock operations do? Depends on the livestock. For dairy farms, for example, capping and capturing biogas (methane) and converting to renewable natural gas (RNG) is the “new gold rush” in California. In just 3 years, reduced 25% of methane in California through manure technologies.
  • For enteric methane (animal belch) reductions most technologies are still experimental. Essential oils, lemongrass, and molecules that are enzyme disruptors all have worked with good results, but they’re not commercially available yet.
  • Germany is a world leader on the anaerobic digestion side, for sure. About 9,000 biogas plants.
  • Renewable energy is not getting the same pick up here, because fossil fuels are still “cheap” in North America
  • Are regulations going to force grazing or supplements? California has taken the carrot approach and setting goals, not stipulating practices, just outcomes. And has put money up to get there.
  • Give farmers a way forward, and they will adapt — incentives and support makes progress. We know that, and we’ve seen it!
  • The greenhouse gas cycle — it’s circular.
  • And there’s been some reaction and action to the Burger King ad, by Burger King. WHOA. Mitloehner says the online video has been edited, and the company is producing a one-pager explaining where it was wrong/untruthful in the claims. They also say they now want to work with Dr. Mitloehner.
  • McDonald’s feeds 1% of the human population every day. These companies do move the needle on production practices.
  • Rotational grazing — the right amount of grazing pressure, and move animals off, it means you can sequester a lot of carbon. From leaves, to roots, to soil, locking it in (but not permanently, remember).
  • What does methane research look like? Bubbles, boxes, and more!
  • How should we measure GHG/methane in the atmosphere vs. CO2 equivalent?
  • Ag has done a good job talking to itself, but the public doesn’t hear it. We now see more young people interested where their food comes from and how it’s produced. We have to be open to that! And open to change.

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