Babybel maker launches pioneering plan to cut methane emissions

May 30, 2023

Bel Group, the French cheese maker most famous for Babybel, has begun a new initiative which it says will lead to a significant reduction in livestock methane emissions, the company announced

The Babybel maker has successfully completed a series of pilot tests for Bovaer, a new feed additive that Bel describes as “revolutionary”. The company is now starting to roll out this solution to the majority of its dairy producers in Slovakia.

According to the BabyBel maker, Bel Group’s partner dsm-firmenich supplies around 70 million litres of milk per year to make the Group’s renowned Babybel cheeses distributed in Central Europe and the United Kingdom.

With the support of its partner farmers, Bel says it aims to deploy the solution to all 10,000 cows supplying milk in Slovakia.

According to the dairy brand, this will cut methane emissions by 1/4 for each farm and represent an overall yearly 400-ton methane reduction, or 11,000 tons of CO2 eq – the equivalent of taking over 3,300 family-sized cars off the road.

In line with its mission to champion responsible food, Bel thus aims to make its dairy products low methane.

Deploying Bovaer at scale demonstrates the Group’s and dsm-firmenich’s determination and pioneering spirit in the search for innovative, concrete, and effective solutions to combat climate change, Bel added.

Methane is a potent greenhouse gas that has a much greater warming effect than CO2, and cows, by naturally emitting this gas during digestion, are the second-most important source of methane from human activities (after fossil fuels).

But the feed additive developed by dsm-firmenich, Bovaer, added to the dairy cows’ diet – no more than a quarter of a teaspoon per cow per day – can suppress some of the chemical reactions that produce the gas in their stomach, thus making them emit 25% less methane on average.

Simon Bonnet, Bel Group Milk Purchasing Director, says: “Deploying this revolutionary solution to our Slovakian dairy basin is proof that we are taking decisive steps towards a low-methane future for dairy.

“At Bel, we are incredibly proud to be able, together with our partner farmers, to bring innovative solutions and transform the agricultural model to make it more sustainable and responsible. After deploying in Central Europe, we aim to make low-methane milk a reality in other markets as well. We’ve carried out 900 carbon diagnostics at our partner farms, showing that methane emissions represent about half of the greenhouse gas emissions of a dairy farm – the potential for change is enormous.”

Mark van Nieuwland, VP Bovaer at dsm-firmenich, added: “At dsm-firmenich, our purpose is to bring progress to life, committed to pushing the boundaries of science and technology to make the world we live in more sustainable.

“Bringing new innovations to market is only possible with the support of pioneering players such as Bel Group. This large-scale deployment of our promising Bovaer solution shows that the future of low-methane milk is here.”

This new feed additive has been the subject of scientific studies conducted by several research institutes and universities, including INRAE in France, Wageningen University in the Netherlands, and UC Davis in the United States. It is also validated by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).

Bovaer respects the well-being of cows, consumers and the environment. After acting to suppress methane production in the cow’s stomach, it is naturally broken down into elements already present and processed by the animal’s metabolism, without affecting production volumes or milk quality.

Once the roll-out is complete in Slovakia, consumers will be able to choose tasty, low-methane Babybel products made in Bel’s Slovakian plant with 100% Slovakian milk and destined for Central Europe (Germany, Czech Republic and Slovakia) as well as the UK.

Bel is working to extend this low-methane solution to other Group markets. Pilots with Bovaer are being carried out in France since early 2023.

Methane is about 28 times more effective than CO2 at trapping heat in the atmosphere over a 100-year period.

The results of the pilot experiment conducted by the Babybel in 2022 are very positive and show a potential reduction of on average 30% in methane emissions from cows, depending on their ration and the amount of Bovaer fed.

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