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Animals are increasingly being fed with products that people can also eat. This leads to a so-called feed-food competition, in which people and animals compete for food and natural resources such as land or water. The key challenge in the coming decades will be to produce enough safe and nutritious food for future populations without running out of resources or destroying the Earth’s ecosystems – in other words, without exhausting the biological and physical resources of the planet. A key question in feeding the future world, therefore, is ‘what is the role of farm animals in a sustainable food system?
I recently demonstrated with a group of international researchers that farm animals reared under a circular paradigm can play a crucial role in feeding humanity while decreasing the environmental impact (Van Zanten et al., 2018). In the video below I explain how we can use animals in a circular food system, in which feed-food competition is avoided. These farm animals reared in a circular food system would not consume human-edible biomass, such as grains, but convert by-products from the food system and biomass from grasslands into valuable food, manure and other ecosystem services. Such farming requires a transition towards circularity in the food system and, therefore, a paradigm shift, as our current food industry is built around the linear extract-produce-consume-discard model.
It is my ambition to unravel the role of farm animals in a circular food system and contribute to its transition. During my PhD study I focussed on the environmental benefits of using human-inedible-sources as livestock feed. After graduating cum laude, I continued to work on this research-line at the Animal Production Systems group. I recently received the NWO Talent Scheme grant (VENI) to further develop my research. I work closely together with Kipster and advise them on how to create the first climate neutral and feed-food competition free laying hen farm in the Netherlands (www.kiperster.nl) and I participate in the expert panel on nitrogen and food to advise the United Nations on alternative proteins (Parodi et al., 2018). I, furthermore, coordinate the BSC course ‘The role of livestock in future food systems’ and supervise several PhD students:
Ollie van Hal (2015): The optimal utilisation of leftovers by livestock. https://www.wur.nl/nl/Personen/Ollie-ing.-O-Ollie-van-Hal.htm?subpage=projects
Anita Frehner (2017): The relation between healthy diets and environment. https://www.fibl.org/en/team/frehner-anita-en.html
Alejandro Parodi (2018): Pursuing circularity in food systems: unravelling the environmental potential of waste-fed black soldier fly larvae. https://www.wur.nl/nl/Personen/Alejandro-A-Alejandro-Parodi-Parodi-BSc.htm
Donagh Hennessy (2018): Optimising land use in Ireland by avoiding feed-food competition
Wilson Wilson (2018): The role of the maize-soybean-chicken value chain in sustainable food systems: the case of Southern Agricultural Growth Corridor of Tanzania. https://www.wur.nl/en/Persons/Wilson-WC-Wilson-Wilson.htm
Loekie Schreefel (2018): Towards regenerative agriculture: the Netherlands as case study for dairy and arable farming.