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7 innovative technologies developed to cut greenhouse gas emissions in animal agriculture

Man eating yogurt
6 min read
AUTHOR: Gavin Wren
illustration of the farming system

Great leaps forward in food and farming have long been defined by technological advances. The industrial revolution brought the tractor and combine harvester which multiplied farm efficiencies, while the green revolution brought new crop breeds and fertilisers that made a profound impact on food security around the world. As global warming marches on, agricultural innovation will be one of the biggest trump cards in the hunt for net zero. As for now, animal agriculture is responsible for almost 20% of all greenhouse gas emissions.

When it comes to making progress toward net zero, the onus in food rests sharply on one area: animals. Cows and their greenhouse gas emissions have become as welcome at the environmentally-aware dining table as paparazzi when Harry and Meghan hail a cab. Even chicken meat and eggs, some the most environmentally light-touch of proteins, are heavier than Dostoevsky when it comes to meta-analyses of the environmental impact of our food supply.

On the other hand, such a poor record on planet-friendliness also provides the largest capacity for potential gains in efficiency. Scientists and businesses around the world are beavering away to discover novel methods that could make livestock more environmentally amenable. And with meat consumption continuing to rise at a global level , it’s vital that we find novel ways to reduce the impacts of production.

Here are seven ways that cutting-edge innovation and sparkling technology is trying to take livestock from not-the-hero to net zero.

Robotic cattle pills

This might be hard one swallow, however the insides of a cow’s many stomachs is where most of the GHG emissions are created. Traditional approaches to monitor cows’ digestive systems include putting an actual door – known as a porthole – in the side of the cow’s stomach to take samples. Now researchers at Purdue University are creating a robotic millipede-like pill that can be swallowed by the cow and then roam around the animal’s internals to watch what’s happening .

Phage therapy

Anti-microbial resistance is a huge problem globally and any illness in livestock results in wasted resources. Bacteriophages, otherwise known as phages were discovered over 100 years ago, however the ease of applying antibiotics meant they were disregarded. Phages, are viruses that infect and replicate only within bacterial cells. They are the most common biological entity in nature and can be used to selectively target bacteria that are otherwise resistant to antibiotic treatment. Cutting edge lab tests are showing that developments in phages can be used to control bacteria in plants, animals, food, and humans where antibiotics are no longer effective.

AI and machine learning livestock monitoring

When you have hundreds, or thousands of animals roaming around a farm it becomes a huge task to keep a watchful eye over them all. At the same time, illness can be devastating for a flock or herd, resulting in the need for treatment, poor performance, and in the worst case, the loss of animals. All of these create additional burdens on resources and increase the environmental impact of animal agriculture

One of the most important factors in safe and efficient livestock production is the ability to predict, monitor or prevent illness from appearing and spreading within a farm. In the same way that violent football hooligans are spotted via CCTV at football stadiums using facial recognition, agricultural systems use the same autonomous, intelligent tech to monitor individual animals, along with RFID tags, heat cameras and more.

Combined with intelligent software that uses AI and machine learning to develop data about each animal, systems are tracking the movements of every unique animal for behavioural changes and to identify when an individual animal needs attention. These systems can raise early warning of any illness, poor performance or an entire raft of ailments. Combined with robotic feeding and milking, there are enormous efficiency savings with the intelligent monitoring of livestock.

Gene-editing single sex chicks

Chickens which produce eggs are specifically bred for that purpose. Known as laying hens, they’re somewhat skinny birds that can pump out almost one egg per day in their prime. Due to their size zero frame, there’s not much meat on them, and hence little value in that respect. At the same time, only the female chickens can lay eggs, meaning that any males that are born have almost zero value in the food system and are culled at birth.

This culling of day-old chicks – by crashing through a grinding machine or gassing – has long been highlighted by animal rights supporters as one of the most scandalous parts of the egg supply chain, and rightly so. However new technology is working to remove the issue entirely. The first technological step was in-ovo sexing, where scanners can identify the sex of the embryo in an egg before it’s born, allowing males to be removed before birth.

The very latest tech has found a way to completely prevent male chicks from developing in the first place. Scientists have discovered a way to use gene-editing technology that would inactivate male embryos after fertilisation. This would mean that only female chickens would grow and hatch, thus removing the culling process completely. The technology is 100% accurate, although is currently restricted in use due to legislation on gene-edited livestock for food .

Methane blockers

Cow burps have shouldered a lot of responsibility in climate change, however new tech hitting the headlines could change that. Companies around the world are developing feed additives that when consumed by cows reduce the amount of methane being created. These technologies promise huge reductions in methane outputs, often up to 45% reductions in methane.

Additives such as Bovaer prevent enzymes that create methane from forming, and have been approved for use, while many other companies are working on additives based up edible red algae, garlic and citrus additives, or probiotic yeasts. There is a huge amount of innovation in this area and we can expect these to become commonplace over the coming years.


It’s ironic that one of the biggest gains in reducing livestock emissions could be one of the most low-tech. There’s been huge efforts over the last decade to persuade us humans in the west to eat insects, with relatively little traction. Many animals, on the other hand, were literally born to eat insects.

Using insects as a replacement for soy in cattle feed would increase the protein content of the feed, whilst coming from more environmentally friendly sources than those associated with the large-scale production of soy.

Net zero eggs

Food waste has long been a sore point in the food system, often being palmed off as a sticking plaster for food banks, even the poorest in society aren’t overjoyed about eating cast-off food.

Insects, on the other hand, are born to eat waste. Combined with a company like Better Origin who build-in some sophisticated tech and solar power, they’ve paved the way for Morrisons to begin selling the UK’s first carbon-neutral eggs.

Better Origin have supplied 10 mini insect farms that devour 3000 tonnes of food waste per year to feed larvae, which supports the growth of insects that are one of the most natural forms of food for chickens. This takes the pressure away from imported soy and the trial is estimated to save 2810 tonnes of CO₂e emissions annually . A life cycle analysis from Cambridge University has stamped and certified the carbon neutral status.


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