EU Policy. No plans to fix cows with anti-belch masks, says Commissioner

Britain's King Charles looks at a wearable device for cattle to neutralise their methane emissions in real time created by design group Zelp.
Britain's King Charles looks at a wearable device for cattle to neutralise their methane emissions in real time created by design group Zelp. Copyright Arthur Edwards/AP
By Gerardo Fortuna
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Bloc’s agriculture commissioner reassured a concerned MEP that the EU executive is not mulling mandatory methane reduction masks for cattle, as touted by right-wing media.

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Gassy emissions from ruminants such as dairy and beef cattle are the most significant source of potent greenhouse gas methane after human activities.

Solutions for coping with farming-related emissions now include innovative wearable devices to capture methane belched by cows, which convert this in real time into carbon dioxide.

Late last year Austrian right-wing media outlet Exxpress reported that installing such belch masks on cattle formed part of the commission's Green Deal plans, a report which prompted MEP Annika Bruna (France, ID) to ask the EU executive if it did plan to make such devices mandatory for European livestock farmers.

“The Commission is not planning to impose masks on cows,” EU Commissioner for Agriculture Janusz Wojciechowski replied recently to Bruna.

The Polish Commissioner confirmed that the EU allocated €50,000 in 2019 to the British start-up Zelp Ltd to develop “a patented wearable device in the form of a nose ring” aiming at reducing the impact of livestock’s methane belch emissions.

However, the sum was disbursed in the context of the EU’s research programme Horizon 2020 contributing to 70% of the overall cost of the project and has nothing to do with legislative initiatives carried out by the commission, Wojciechowski insisted.

In 2022, the innovative design of the anti-belch mask fine-tuned by Zelp won a nearly €60,000 prize backed by Britain's King Charles III to help develop the idea in the future.

The right wing MEP also complained that such technology “constitutes further regression in terms of animal welfare.” In his reply, the commissioner acknowledged that the impact of masks on cows was not covered by the impact assessment done by the EU Food Safety Agency (EFSA) following the revision of the EU animal welfare legislation.

Wojciechowski also pointed out that other technologies “are currently available and readily applicable to efficiently reduce methane emissions from enteric fermentation” for instance through changes in cattle diets and feed additives.

In 2022, the commission approved a feed additive developed by Dutch company Dsm that suppresses the enzyme triggering methane production in cows’ rumen, thus reducing emissions by approximately 30% for dairy cows and as much as 90% for beef cows.

A first attempt to curb greenhouse gas pollution from the agriculture sector was put forward by the commission in 2022, when it proposed to revise the so-called Industrial Emissions Directive. However, EU lawmakers watered down the original plan and decided in a political deal reached last November to exclude cattle farms from the scope of the law.

Likewise, agricultural emissions were removed from the 2040 reduction targets presented by the commission today (6 February) in the wake of farmers’ protests across Europe.

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