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The role of micro-nutrition in sustainable egg production

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Eggs are one of the most complete foods available at scale and within all geographies, and being one of the most efficient ways of producing animal protein typically have a low greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions per unit of protein. With increasing affluence in many parts of the world, eggs are seen as an affordable, staple protein in many diets, irrespective of ethnicity. 

Global consumption of eggs is increasing substantially year on year, and in order to satisfy consumer demand the industry must grow sustainably, reducing its environmental footprint and staying within the planet’s resource boundaries.

The nutritional value of eggs

Eggs are part of healthy, balanced nutrition and particularly important for vulnerable populations like children, the elderly and pregnant women due to the fact that eggs are a good source of vitamin A, E, D niacin, and folate, while containing 6g of protein and only 70 calories per egg.

Thanks to these characteristics and the fact that eggs can be preserved with no refrigeration for several days or weeks, they are an important food source to combat malnutrition in a natural way. When addressing obesity, an egg for breakfast has been effective at reducing calorie consumption due to its effect on satiation – an effect of its high protein content, while in those populations where there is substantial lack of protein leading to stunting, eggs have proven to be particularly effective at reversing this issue.

Several programs are being conducted in developing countries around the world to maximize the use of eggs in combating malnutrition and specific deficiencies such as those linked to lack of vitamin D. Future documents will deal directly with the role of eggs on the supplementation of specific nutrients.

However, one of the main concerns is to ensure that all the eggs produced on the farm find their way to the plate. Food loss and waste is seen as a central issue to be tackled in order to improve the sustainability of food systems. In the USA it is estimated that 3-12% of the eggs are lost due to breakages. In other countries the number can be even higher due to poor packing, inefficient transportation and/or poor transport infrastructure.

Improving the robustness of the egg can help alleviate these losses and this is achieved through improving the micro-nutrition of the hen. Hens produce one egg per day and part of this biological process requires the mobilization of mineral reserves within the bird for the formation of the egg shell - its thickness, strength and durability rely on this process. Mineral nutrition plays a key role in this along with vitamin D.

Without sufficient vitamin D, the process of mineral metabolism and subsequent egg shell development is impaired. Optimum Vitamin Nutrition (OVN™) with particular focus on vitamin D and its active form 25-hydroxy-cholecalciferol (Hy-D®) is key to improving egg shell strength and reducing egg breakages.

Feeding Hy-D® to the pullet and the hen through their lifetime leads to a 4% increase in egg shell thickness and reduced egg breakages of 15%. Such gains are an important contribution to help reduce food loss and waste, one of the main issues to achieve more sustainable food systems. Considering the nutritional value of the egg for so many, such innovation in vitamin D nutrition is an important technology that should be widely adopted by the egg value chain and one that DSM advocates the use of.

Producing eggs sustainably and responsibly

With increasing affluence, especially in Asia, the demand for animal protein has been growing well ahead of the population. Over the last 50 years the population grew two-fold, while the demand for animal protein in the form of eggs grew almost five-fold.

Eggs are recognized as a highly affordable source of protein and a crucial part of a healthy diet. In the same period, the environmental footprint per egg in industrialized countries like Canada and the USA, has decreased by 70%. This reduction can mainly be attributed to improved genetics, farm infrastructure, sanitary conditions and more importantly, to the advances in feed technology (especially feed efficiency). However, this important reduction in the environmental impact per egg, has been outweighed by the growth of the egg industry.

Consequently, the absolute environmental footprint today is actually higher than 50 years ago and the greater use of compound feed is the main reason behind this. Further reductions in GHGs, phosphorus and nitrogen excretion are possible only if healthy animals are fed with optimized diets consisting of essential nutrients (amino acids, vitamins, minerals and essential fatty acids) and the latest micro-nutrition technology such as feed enzymes and functional feed ingredients known as eubiotics*.

The use of feed enzymes and eubiotics improve the digestibility of the feed and subsequent absorption of nutrients resulting in a lower feed requirement or enabling the greater use of alternative feed raw materials and by-product meals. This leads to significant efficiency gains in egg production and reduces the environmental footprint per egg.

If the entire global egg industry were to use optimized feed enzyme technology across the 149 million tons of layer feed, the reduction in feed use due to improved digestibility of the feed (and therefore less needed by the hen) would lead to a reduction in GHG emissions of 12.4 million tons of CO2 equivalents.

This is enormous and equates to a 7% reduction in GHG emissions for the industry and is equivalent to removing 5.2 million cars from the roads. This example clearly demonstrates the importance of feed on overall industry sustainability and how the influence of feed enzyme technology makes a highly significant contribution to more sustainable production. It is the use of such micro-nutrition that holds the keys to reducing the environmental footprint of egg production in the face of continued, strong consumer demand.

Click to ExpandKim, 2018. U. of Georgia

Animal health and welfare

If welfare is defined by the well-being of a group of animals, the first step is to ensure their good health. A healthy animal will eat, drink and perform according to its nature and most likely will make the best use of the feed it is provided to produce healthy and nutritionally dense eggs.

The hens’ health is dependent on proper accommodation, light, air quality, dry litter, a healthy gut, clean water and most importantly, access to a nutritious and balanced diet composed by grains, vegetable sources of protein, vitamins, oils and minerals. Attention to optimized vitamin D nutrition and the use of Hy-D® in the diet, will promote skeletal integrity by increasing the bones’ cortical tissue volume (Fig 1) and therefore reducing the possibility of osteoporosis, which can be an issue for older hens. As a consequence, hens can live longer, suffer fewer skeletal disorders while continuing to lay.

Optimum vitamin levels (through OVN™) are key to not only skeletal health, but also supports a healthy immune system in the hen and further helps to ensure the welfare of the bird is maintained over its lifetime.

The triple role of Hy-D® on the sustainability of the egg industry: an example

Click to Expand
The triple role of Hy-D® on the sustainability of the egg industry: an example

Conclusions

The environmental footprint of eggs has increased over the last decades, given the fact that the consumer demand for eggs outpaced the significant efficiency gains in genetics, bird housing and nutrition. Feed is the single most important contributor to the environmental footprint of egg production.

DSM has developed over many years nutritional solutions and innovations based on the combination of vitamins, eubiotics and enzymes to enhance the health of the hen, enable the efficient utilization of feed.

The further success of the layers industry is strongly linked to sustainability. With our focus on nutrition and innovation DSM enables the layer industry to further grow to meet the rising demand for eggs and in doing so enables the industry to improve the efficiency of production, while reducing its environmental impact and staying with the planet’s resource boundaries.

* from the Greek “eu” meaning good or healthy and “bios” meaning life, and used in the feed industry to describe a healthy balance of the microbiota in the gastrointestinal tract.

Published:

October 10 2019

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The role of micro-nutrition in sustainable egg production