Replacing South American soy in pig feed by European ingredients is not always more sustainable, yet.

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Reduction of carbon footprint of European protein sources calls for innovative solutions

Gepubliceerd op
28 mei 2014

The carbon footprint of pig feeds containing European soybean meal or poultry meat meal are similar to that of pig feeds containing South American soybean meal. This is shown by on-going research at Wageningen UR within the framework of the PPS Feed4Foodure, in collaboration with Stichting Natuur & Milieu (the Dutch Nature and Environment Foundation), the policy agenda for sustainable livestock (Uitvoeringsagenda Duurzame Veehouderij) and Nevedi (Dutch Feed Industry Association).

On the other hand, calculations show that the processing of European sunflower seed meal, corn DDGS (residual product from bio-ethanol production), meal worms, algae protein and single-cell proteins increases the carbon footprint of pig feed. The possible substitution effects of the large-scale production of these European protein sources have not yet been included in the Life Cycle Assessments. Innovation is required to reduce the carbon footprint of European proteins.

Sustainability of alternative protein sources

Imported soybean meal from South America is currently one of the main sources of protein in livestock feed. To close the European mineral cycle and to make Europe less dependent on South America, the demand for protein sources of European origin is increasing. The condition is, however, that these protein sources are at least just as sustainable as imported soybean meal. For this reason a study has been carried out into the sustainability of a number of European protein sources. In consultation with the livestock feed industry and Stichting Natuur en Milieu, the following raw materials were selected for this study: soybean meal produced in the Netherlands and in the Ukraine, sunflower seed meal, poultry meat meal, DDGS, meal worms, algae protein and single cell proteins. Based on data from the literature and the system of the FeedPrint programme, the nutritional value and the carbon footprint were determined. These protein sources were included in a starter feed for fattening pigs, without the nutritional value of the starter feed being changed. The carbon footprint of the starter feed was then measured, both with and without the contribution of “land use and land use change” (LULUC). Starter feed containing South-American soybean meal was used as a reference here.

Based on this attributional LCA, it appears that the carbon footprint (including LULUC) of pig feed, in which European soybean meal or poultry meat meal has been processed, is comparable to that of pig feed with South-American soybean meal. Algae protein shows a slight increase (1-3%) as compared with the reference. If sunflower seed meal or DDGS is used, the carbon footprint increases by 4-5%. The replacement of South-American soybean meal by single-cell proteins or meal worms results in an increase in the carbon footprint of more than 10%. The possible substitution effects of the large-scale production of these European protein sources have not yet been included in these calculations.

Future perspective

From a nutritional point of view there are many current alternative proteins that are suitable for processing in livestock feed (Van Krimpen et al., 2013). Moreover, aquatic proteins (such as seaweed and algae) do not take up existing arable land, so that the development of these alternatives can contribute to an increase in European protein production. Insects can convert low-value protein into higher quality protein so that insect production may also make a valuable contribution to the supply of European protein. The conversion of residual flow protein into insect protein as a raw material for livestock feed involves an extra link in the food chain; this results in unavoidable losses and increases the carbon footprint.

Production must become more efficient to reduce the carbon footprint of crops containing protein. In Europe more attention must be paid to refining and improving the production conditions of these crops in order to obtain higher yields per hectare. If wet products are dried (DDGS), more energy-saving drying methods are required to reduce the footprint.