By 2050 our world’s population is anticipated to reach 9.7 billion. As the population increases, our food system must increase as well. Sustainably feeding a growing population requires efficient feed production and optimal nutrient utilization by food-producing animals.
Just like people, food-producing animals require high-quality protein sources in their diets. Protein is essential to animal growth and productivity and is incorporated into all animal diets through a multitude of ingredients. Protein meals, like soybean or canola meal, can play a significant role in sustainability and animal productivity.
Growing consumer demands and sustainable production of animal-derived food such as milk, meat and eggs puts pressure on food producers. Nutritionists must focus on the optimal extraction of nutrient value from feed and innovative feed formulations keeping sustainability and efficiency top of mind.
The American Feed Industry Association (AFIA) defines sustainability as the supply of consistent, safe and nutritious feed for animal agriculture, aquaculture and pet food by means that maximize the use of raw materials and support environmental quality while benefiting the social and economic well-being of consumers, communities and the greater industry. As a whole, the animal agriculture industry strives to responsibly reduce their carbon footprint via strategies focused on optimizing resource use, enhancing animal nutrition, increasing awareness surrounding food production and supporting communities.
Sustainable protein meals are critical to meeting the productivity and performance goals of food-producing animals. Sustainable proteins include render and vegetable meals. both of these products result as a co-product of primary use. Meaning, they are sourced by repurposing what would otherwise be wasted material. Utilizing animal and plant-based protein meals maximizes the use of raw ingredients, meeting the AFIA definition of sustainability.
Many of the industry’s sustainable protein meals not only promote efficient animal growth but also reduce waste generated as co- or by-products.
Sustainable protein meals are at the center of feed circularity.
Circular feed recovers and reduces nutrient loss by upcycling nutrients from one organism to another. Nutrients exit the cycle when they enter the human food chain, however, rendering serves as a valuable example of using human unconsumable materials in secondary nutrient cycles such as pet or livestock diets.
Another example of sustainable protein meals in circular feeds is dried distillers grains and solubles (DDGS). As a co-product of soybean crushing, DDGSs upcycle nutrients from fertilized crops back into livestock diets.
Feed circularity can be broken down into 4 key principles:
Food vs. Feed Grade
Food grade refers to materials that meet the standards for human consumption. Feed grade, on the other hand, refers to materials that meet the quality expectations of the animal feed industry but are not suitable for human consumption due to quality characteristics or lack of demand.
Circularity in animal feed production can be supported by incorporating the use of ingredients not graded for human food use and by utilizing co-products of agricultural ingredients used for other purposes such as DDGSs.
Distance between farm and feeder
The concept of the ‘circular feed economy’ has a strong geographic element. The closer the raw material source is to the final point of use, the more ‘circular’ it becomes. This proximity is illustrated by the fact that many feed mills are situated close to row crop facilities and livestock operations, ultimately promoting the local use of resources from the very beginning.
More efficient land use
Circular feed economy principles emphasize the use of secondary raw materials. These materials are derived from other industrial processes that are geared toward the production of a different product. In terms of agronomic resource depletion, the key element here is the use of arable land. The less arable land used for the production of a feed ingredient, the more the ingredient is considered a product of the circular economy. This also means a lower carbon footprint, which is environmentally sustainable.
When evaluating the circularity of a feed ingredient, nutritional characteristics are a crucial factor to consider. These characteristics determine the digestibility and nutrient availability to the animal of the ingredient. In essence, the circularity of a feed ingredient depends on the degree to which the nutrients can be absorbed by the animal and not lost through manure.
Circular feed is an important aspect of sustainability in animal feed production. The use of co-product protein meals upcycles nutrients and uses local resources. This promotes efficient animal growth, reduces waste, optimizes nutrient utilization, and requires less arable land, thus reducing nutrient loss.
To learn more about how you can implement strategies to support your sustainability goals, contact one of our clean feed experts today.