Despite the growing awareness that the impact of the rearing of cattle is having on the world’s climate, the demand for beef continues to grow, with global exports expecting to increase by 10.8 tonnes in 2019 from 2018 levels. It is estimated that agriculture represents 10% of human-made greenhouse gas emissions.
Global beef production and exports
The Argentinian beef industry has recently announced the launch of Bitcow as a way that its beef production can be tracked and traced, thus giving investors the ability to invest in cattle. For as little as $150 investors can buy 10% of a cow. Guillermo Villagra, President of the OpenAgro in Argentina described Bitcow as, “a digital token using ‘real assets’, meaning cows”.
However, there are other initiatives being implemented to try and reduce the impact cattle have on the environment, and one of these is Zelp (which is based in the UK). Statistically, there are 1.5 billion cattle globally and each one creates 250 pounds of methane gas p.a, with belching producing 90% of the methane!To combat the methane from belching, Zelp has developed a muzzle which measures a cow’s ‘burps’ i.e.methane gas.
Cow with a methane muzzle
The muzzle, as well as recording the emitted gas, converts the potentially damaging methane into CO2 and water, reducing the impact of this gas by a factor of 85 times! The muzzle also enables farmers to locate their cattle, identify potential diseases and even determine the optimum time to milk the cow. This additional data is, as Zelp states, “held on a Blockchain-powered blockchain and can improve a farmer’s profits”.
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Together with this, there are a number of other initiatives also using Blockchain technology which are run by the Irish Cattle Breeding Federation (ICBF). The Oracle Blockchain Platform tracks and traces individual cuts of meat back to the cows from which the cuts came, sharing the data (through QR codes, mobile apps, and smartphones) with consumers in exchange for their feedback about the taste. Using the animal’s DNA, genotype, age at the time of slaughter, etc, this gives the consumers insight into exactly what they’re purchasing.
In addition, the ICBF is creating machine-learning algorithms to potentially alter the genetics in cattle, which ultimately will help farmers determine the overall profitability of their herds.
“Our research shows that smaller beef cows release far less methane, and still fetch a premium if their genetic mix produces superior-quality beef,” says Ross Evans, head of ICBFs genetic evaluations group. Andrew Cromie, technical director for ICBF states, “We’re looking for the most economical ways to protect the environment, feed 9 billion people, while making all of that profitable for the farmer. The size of the cow, the amount of methane it emits, and the meat it produces are only some of the components of the overall value equation” adding, “We’re also looking at how quickly those cows are finished and taken to market”. By isolating genotypes that determine fast-growing traits, Cromie claims it is possible for farmers get their cattle to market 100 days faster than the average 700 days.
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