Lemongrass, Burger King, Methane and Our Climate

Credit: Burger King
Credit: Burger King

New Food From Burger King

Burger King recently announced they will sell a more climate-friendly beef for a limited time in Austin, Portland, New York and other select locations across the US. The beef will come from cows fed lemongrass during the last few months of their approximately three-year lives. We know when companies, such as Burger King, make climate investments directly in their supply chains, it drives the solutions our climate and our communities need. If Burger King can continue this approach, and these types of direct climate actions, it can start to create change at scale.

Why Lemongrass?

For this initiative, Burger King explains that enteric methane emissions – a potent greenhouse gas – from the cattle are reduced by one third during the time they are fed lemongrass. Overall, this equates to a reduction in enteric emissions of less than 5% when considered over a cattle’s lifespan.

Enteric emissions are a major source of greenhouse gas emissions from the livestock sector, which in itself makes up 14.5% of total human-caused global emission according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Reducing enteric emissions is imperative to reducing emissions from the livestock sector, and Burger King is not wrong in trying to address this emissions source. However, there is still much debate about the effectiveness of various feed additives to address enteric emissions, especially when fed to cattle for long periods of time.

Burger King’s efforts to reduce emissions by feeding lemongrass to cattle is based on the biology of how cattle digest their food. Enteric methane is produced within the stomach of cattle through microbial fermentation, part of the natural process they use to break down what they eat. By changing what we feed our cattle, we may be able to reduce the amount of methane they produce. 

Counting the Climate Gains

The standards body Verra recently approved a new methodology, developed by Swiss agritech company Mootral, which would set guidelines for generating carbon offsets when enteric emissions are reduced by using “100% natural” feed additives. The methodology allows for one of two different methods for quantifying emissions reductions, either using direct measurement, or using an emissions reduction value supported by scientific literature. 

Native has been following the progress of this new methodology, as well as the progress of research into various feed additives for several years. We find much of the research to date has taken place over the course of weeks, and does not reflect the impacts of feed additives over the lifetime of cattle. It remains unknown whether these products would continue to work when fed to livestock continuously over a multi-year period; the typical crediting period of a carbon project is ten years. While this type of enteric emissions solution is still relatively new and many questions remain, there may be opportunities in the future as the scope of research around this topic expands. 

Demonstrate and Scale

Should Burger King, and others with livestock in their supply chains, commit to invest in addressing remaining enteric emissions, larger climate gains will certainly result. There are also opportunities to drawdown carbon into soils where livestock graze. This does not address enteric emissions, but provides another opportunity to reduce total greenhouse gases.

At Native it is in our DNA to take action, finding a way to put the latest science into practice, demonstrate real solutions and catalyze wider change. In that spirit, we were pleased to see Burger King’s program and look forward to following its expansion.