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The benefits of feeding seaweed to animals

Organic farming produces less emissions, but produces less food

In October 2019 the Organic Research Centre published findings of research showing that 

"A 100% shift to organic farming in England and Wales would yield up to 40% less food if the nation did not change its diet, leading to increased imports and a net increase in greenhouse gas emissions, researchers have found. The study, published in Nature Communications was principally conducted by Dr Laurence Smith, whilst at Cranfield University (now of the Royal Agricultural University) and supported by the Organic Research Centre, with Professor Guy Kirk and Dr Adrian Williams of Cranfield University and Philip Jones of Reading University. So although organic farming generally creates lower geenhouse gas (GHG) per commodity, up to 20% lower for rops and 4% lower for livestock, it also produces less food energy output per hectare.

Dr Adrian Williams, Reader in Agri-Environmental Systems at Cranfield University says, “We predict a drop in total food production of 40% under a fully organic farming regime, compared to conventional farming, if we keep to the same national diet. This results from lower crop yields, because yields are restricted by a lower supply of nitrogen, which is mainly from grass-legume leys within crop rotations or manure from cattle on pasture.”

By way of response, Rob Percival, head of food policy at the Soil Association said; “The study recognises the greater potential for soil carbon sequestration under organic, plus benefits for local biodiversity. The assumptions behind the study’s conclusion that there will be a net increase in greenhouse gas emissions under organic are fundamentally flawed. The study assumes no change in diet, which is clearly untenable given the global dietary health crisis, and that we would keep diverting most of our cropland to over-production of the wrong things – livestock feed, commodity crops for processed food and biofuels. We’ve known for years that dietary change – a move towards ‘more and better’ plants and ‘less and better’ meat – will benefit the public’s health and free up land, making an organic scenario entirely feasible. In particular, we need to stop feeding so many crops to animals – 58% of cereals and 68% of oilseed crops currently – this means eating less intensively produced grain-fed poultry and pork. 

“The recent study from French thinktank IDDRI suggests that Europe could adopt 100% agroecological farming, akin to organic, and still feed a growing population a healthy diet, while protecting biodiversity and helping to meet net-zero targets for climate change. In the UK, over a hundred organisations and leading figures in food, farming, environment and health have backed the recommendation of the RSA’s Food, Farming and Countryside Commission that the UK commit to a 10-year transition to agroecology. This doesn’t mean the UK going 100% certified organic, but there is now widespread recognition that the inter-related crises of climate, nature and health demand a joined-up solution. An agroecological UK, with organic farming at its heart, is that solution.“

Seagreens® seaweed species fed to livestock helps obtain more nutritional value from feed materials and in the case of dairy reduces methane emissions. The production of the seaweed requires no land, fresh water or fertilisers, is organic, abundant, and replaces other, higher costs such as mineral licks and poor health.

The full tet of the report and responses can be found at this link:

Principally, the seaweed is used to:

  • Ensure the entire range of micronutrients vital to growth, performance and disease resistance without the attendant dangers of deficiency or toxicity which may accompany formulated feed additives
  • Increase beneficial bacteria and the condition of the gut to enhance immunity and the uptake of other feed nutrients particularly on low grade rations
  • Secure the nutritional balance most significantly for debility and recovery, fertility, reproduction, gestation and in the newborn, and during other periods of stress

“The benefits of feeding seaweed to animals seem out of all proportion to the apparent food value of the seaweed itself. Trace elements and growth hormones are probably involved, although the fact that seaweed modifies the intestinal flora of livestock may be chiefly responsible.

It may be that in modifying their intestinal bacteria to help them digest the seaweed, livestock are better able to exploit other ingreedients in their diet”
W. A. Stephenson, Seaweed in Agriculture and Horticulture, 3rd edition, Rateaver, California 1974.