Sustainability of the Feed Chain
Products of animal origin (meat, milk & eggs) form an integral part of the European diet. These food products provide key nutritional benefits and contribute to our overall health. As a first and important step in order to mitigate the environmental impact of livestock products, the feed industry produces nutritionally balanced feed for animals to meet their requirements and reduce emissions to the environment. `
Resource efficiency is a key part of ecologically intensive livestock systems. Simple changes to diet composition and pattern can reduce emissions (lowering protein content, adding oils or herbs to diets). The use of inedible co-products derived from the food industry by animals contributes to the overall resource efficiency of the food chain. Without a livestock industry these products would have to be lost from the nutrient cycle and wasted. The recycling of inedible nutrients is a valuable link in the nutrient cycle. In Ireland up to 50 % of our livestock diets may be composed of these valuable products that are recycled by the animal back to edible food sources for humans.
By working with both intensive and extensive producers the feed industry aims to further increase our resource efficiency while promoting best practise both social and environmental.
What steps are we making towards a Comprehensive and Measurable Vision on Sustainability?
Through our EU based Association (FEFAC) and in collaboration with many stakeholders in the feed chain the Irish feed industry is contributing to the development of criteria defining sustainable supplies and harmonised methods of environmental foot printing.
1) Environmental Foot-printing: The LEAP partnership was set up in 2012 and promotes an exchange of data and information, technical expertise and research geared towards improving and harmonizing the way in which livestock food chains are assessed and monitored. The project partners can be found here.
The outcome of the partnership will be a Life Cycle Analysis Database LCA database available to everyone. The emissions attributed to feed production are needed to compute any Life Cycle Analysis of livestock food chains. The LEAP partners are focused on the development of a global database of GHG life cycle inventory (LCI) data for major feed crop materials.
2) Product Environmental Footprint. The Commission has embarked on an ambitious three year project to develop standard methods to measure and communicate a product’s environmental foot-print PEF Pilot: These pilots are aimed at establishing methods to measure environmental performance throughout the lifecycle process. The aim is to provide principles for communicating environmental performance, such as transparency, reliability, completeness, comparability and clarity for the consumer. The feed industry is involved with the second wave of these pilots. The final outcome will be a guidelines on how (feed) businesses may in the future label products so the consumer can make an informed choice. Information on the feed pilot and stakeholder involvement is available here.
What about our Supply Chain?
The feed industry has been involved with developing sustainable supplies of key feed ingredients to various sectors over the past few years. In February 2014 a member company Volac UK announced plans to team up with Pacific Rim Plantation Services Ltd to form a strategic partnership for sourcing certified sustainable palm oil products for the manufacture of their Megalac range of rumen-protected fats.
Sustainable Soybean and Meals. This is another important initiative that has been gathering pace over the past few years. Sustainable Soy (SS).
Across Northern Europe there is increasing pressure from consumers to ensure the food chain has sustainable practises in place. In order to deal with the genuine concern of consumers some actors in the supply chain have developed sustainability system.
The well known ones are ISCC, RTRS, Proterra, USSEC, FEMAS sustain and Soja Plus. None of the schemes has reached a stage where they can access large enough volumes of soy meal to satisfy the (expected) retailer demand. Discussions are heated between stakeholders about the key criteria for sustainable sourcing. The schemes with most traction at the moment are a deterrent for farmers as they appear to be the most expensive to operate. Most importantly, experience with sustainable palm oil and GMO has shown that the farmers ends up carrying the burden of the cost. Price premiums are rarely passed down the food chain to the farmer. The last thing the Irish feed industry wants is for our livestock farmers to absorb the full cost of extra sustainability requirements.
FEFAC has initiated a discussion aimed at benchmarking the various schemes. The objective is to encourage sufficient volume moving along the chain to satisfy demand gradually. In addition, it is vital to give clarity on the difference and similarities between the schemes, to promote transparency, verification of standards and gradually move toward sustainable sourcing of soy meal. IGFA for its part will be looking to ensure there is equal burden sharing of the cost along the chain.
EU Protein Deficit: The feed industry engages with academics, nutritionists and plant breeders to help improve the EU protein balance sheet. Research is ongoing with plant breeders to develop EU protein crops that provide farmers with varieties that have improved yield and disease resistance characteristics. A vital part of our nutritional advice is aimed at best utilisation of protein diets. The correct level of protein to the correct animal to meet the projected output and reduce waste. At an EU level the industry is engaged with the EU initiative EIP- AGRI where research and innovation are used to develop EU solutions.