GREENFIELD — Elanco, which has long focused its science on improving the health of animals, has now patented a first-of-its kind product aimed instead at helping the environment by reducing greenhouse gases from livestock.
Experior, a feed additive, won approval from the Food and Drug Administration in November. It works by reducing troublesome ammonia gas emissions from the manure of beef cattle. It is a groundbreaking development in the animal health industry, said Keri McGrath, Elanco’s corporate communications director. This approval marks the first time the FDA has allowed a drug specifically designed to reduce pollution from animals or their waste, the agency said.
Managing animal waste is a major operation on most farms. Even small herds of cattle can generate hundreds of pounds of manure a day, and that waste can be toxic. One byproduct, ammonia, is worrisome because it contributes to atmospheric haze and noxious odors, the FDA said in a news release.
High concentrations of ammonia can cause irritation of the eyes, nose and throat in both humans and animals, and in excess amounts it has proved to be harmful to the environment, McGrath said. A well-documented problem caused in part by ammonia emissions is called eutrophication, which affects the ecosystems in bodies of water by introducing a surplus of nutrients. That can result in algae blooms that choke off oxygen and kill fish and other aquatic creatures.
So, reducing ammonia in cattle waste is something of an environmental imperative. Agricultural scientists conducted several studies on the effects the drug had on cattle in controlled conditions, the FDA said. These studies resulted in an additive that has promise to assist in cutting the amount of pollution the animals contribute without harming the animals in the process.
The concept of a compound aimed at reducing harmful emissions is a positive step forward for agriculture, said Dr. Ron Lemenager, a beef extension specialist and professor at Purdue University.
All humans and animals, whether farm animals or our pets, give off emissions as a byproduct of our metabolism, Lemenager said. In too large a quantity, those emissions can begin to impact the environment. For example, methane, a greenhouse gas emitted when cows burp or pass gas, accounts for a significant amount of agricultural pollution. Farming overall is responsible for about 8 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions in the United States, according to The New York Times’ “Climate Fwd:” project. By comparison, according to the Environmental Protection agency, transportation and electricity account for well over half of all greenhouse gas emissions.
“There are other industries that produce a whole lot more than the population of cattle, but every component of our economy and our society probably needs to be concerned about how much is released into the environment,” Lemenager said. “This compound — and other compounds like it that can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions — should be a positive for the long-term effect on the environment.”
“Products like (Experior) have potential to make a real difference,” he added.
McGrath pointed out that the beef industry, through organizations such as the U.S. Roundtable for Sustainable Beef and the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, are working to address agricultural greenhouse gas emissions.
Greenfield-based Elanco does not speculate on individual product performance or launch timing, so Experior’s market potential and impact on the animal health industry is yet to be determined, McGrath said. However, the company is eager to see how the product will ultimately impact agriculture, she said.
And at a time when more consumers are expressing concern about the environmental impact of food production, addressing pollution is important.
“Beef producers strive to be good stewards of the land and their animals and continually seek tools to improve environmental sustainability,” McGrath said. “Over time, agricultural specialists can use these products to attain their goal of maintaining their operations for generations to come.”