Which animal feeds are fit for the future?

Sensemaking / Which animal feeds are fit for the future?

Introducing Feed Compass - a tool to tackle a major hurdle to sustainable protein.

By Sarah Tulej / 03 Mar 2017

This article is an analysis of the results of our Future of Animal Feed Explorer survey. The full report can be found here.

Global demand for meat and milk is expected to increase by 57% and 48% to 2050, from a 2005 baseline, propelled by shifting diets and population growth. Unless some fundamental things in our food chain change, meeting that demand will be impossible. There simply isn’t enough available land, water or fish in the seas to feed both animals and 9 or 10 billion people. Clearly what we eat – particularly the proportion of meat, fish and dairy – is a major factor. Even to meet modest demand for these, one crucial question must be tackled first: what do we feed the creatures themselves?  

We have mapped innovations in animal feed from fly larvae plumped up by feeding on waste, to methane-eating bacteria that can be turned into high protein feed. But which are the more sustainable options? Unfortunately there is currently no way of answering that question – and this is one of the primary barriers to scaling up sustainable forms of animal feed that we’ve identified as part of the Protein Challenge 2040 project.

In 2016 we surveyed 62 industry stakeholders globally to better understand the challenges and solutions in scaling feed innovation. When we asked this community what needs to happen next, one clear request was for shared sustainability standards that would allow them to compare one option with another, and so make informed choices. 

We have established an ambitious and diverse international group (Ahold Delhaize, Calysta, Evonik, Volac, Waitrose, WWF-US, Forum for the Future) to accelerate action towards sustainable animal feed. They come from across the food system, from retailers, feed ingredients companies, innovators and NGOs. Together, we are developing ‘Feed Compass’ – a set of criteria and easy to use tool to help compare different types of feed. Our ambition is that Feed Compass will help to support the industry in feeding animals sustainability, to future-proof value chains and, and help to ensure our food security in the long term. 

Insights from the Global Feed Survey

The importance of some means to compare and contrast feed options was just one key insight that emerged from the Global Feed Survey. It also identified: 

Three trends

We asked stakeholders which trends they believe will be most important in driving change in the feed industry over the next 20 years, and why.

  • 47% of respondents believe that changing consumer preferences for protein will drive change - from growing demand for meat and dairy products in some parts of the world, to a shift towards more plant-based diets in others. 
  • A further 34% thought that consumer concern for sustainability will drive change in the feed industry. 
  • 27% thought that development and commercialisation of alternatives to soy, cereal grains and fishmeal will gradually be able to compete – such as algae or insect-based feeds.

Four challenges

Significant challenges are currently slowing sustainable feed innovation reaching mainstream markets. Almost two thirds of respondents (63%) identified cost competitiveness as a major barrier (many alternatives are still small scale, and more expensive), followed by a lack of appropriate regulation to support their take up (45%). Coming joint third were lack of demand for sustainable feeds and, closely linked, a lack of information on the sustainability profile of feeds (37%).

Five areas for action

We asked our community what needs to happen next. Here’s what they told us:

  1. Awareness and capacity building are key– to understand the risks of ‘business as usual’ on food security, and to increase demand for meat, fish and dairy fed using sustainable sources. 
  2. Better collaboration across the value chain is needed– between retailers and suppliers, and between different feed sources, to ensure that the issue of feed is being address holistically. 
  3. Regulation and incentives to enable more sustainable sources of feed to compete in the market would speed their adoption.
  4. Financing, to help alternatives achieve scale more quickly and bring down their high cost relative to conventional sources of feed.
  5. Finally, shared sustainability standards would allow us to compare apples with apples, and allow retailers and feed companies to choose feed that is competitive while ensuring the long term sustainability of livestock and fish value chains. 

Are you interested in helping to scale sustainable feed solutions? Do you have some experience and resources that could help? 

To find out more, and to get involved with Feed Compass, please get in touch with Sarah Tulej.

What might the implications of this be? What related articles have you seen?

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