Taking the LEAP towards a sustainable future
by Michael Binder, Vice President Sustainable Development, Evonik
Sustainability is central to the animal feed industry, and here at Evonik we play our part by developing evidenced-based products and solutions; we call it Sciencing the Global Food Challenge.
However, we are well aware that feeding our growing population in a sustainable manner is something that no one company or organisation can manage alone. We are just one cog in the huge machine that needs to work in harmony to develop and maintain our food system in a more viable, long-term manner.
One step towards helping this happen is the publication of the FAO's 'Environmental performance of feed additives in livestock supply chains: Guidelines for assessment'. I am a member of the Livestock Environmental Assessment and Performance (LEAP) Partnership's Feed Additives Technical Advisory Group and contributed to the development of the guidelines, especially with regards to the production and use of amino acids.
The new publication explains, among many other things, how the digestibility of feed is an important contributor both to feed efficiency and to the environmental impact of feed production on livestock production. It says, 'With the exception of ruminants, which are able to digest a large variety of feeds (in particular diets with a high percentage of fibres), monogastric animals (pigs and poultry) are not able to digest fibres efficiently. For this reason, a high energy diet for monogastric animals comprises mainly feed ingredients with high digestibility (e.g. cereals and legumes).
'Feed additives can be used to improve the digestibility of feed ingredients containing a higher level of undigestible nutrients (e.g. fibres), thereby increasing their energy, amino acid and/or mineral values.
'By increasing feed digestibility, the availability of nutrients (carbohydrates, fatty acids, amino acids and minerals) present in the animal diet is increased. As a consequence, either animals need less feed to achieve their physiological requirements (maintenance, production) or they can produce more (e.g. by increasing their growth rate or milk/egg production).
'Increased feed digestibility can be achieved either by acting on the nutrient availability in the diet or by improving the gastrointestinal tract function (e.g. influencing the microbiome).'
Essential amino acids including methionine, lysine, tryptophane and threonine are, as their name suggests, required ingredients, but they lead to the formulation of animal feed which contains a relatively high level of proteins when only plant-based sources are used.
These excess proteins are then excreted producing nitrous oxide and ammonia and leads to the potential for leaching into the wider environment.
By providing amino acids individually and in the required quantities, the amino acid content of feed can be better managed in order to meet the animals' requirements, without environmentally damaging excesses. The total level of protein in the diet can be reduced, leading to a reduced use of high-protein-content feed ingredients, such as soybean meal or rapeseed meal.
Working together we can help make animal feed more sustainable and help meet the global food challenge.