The sustainable transformation of animal protein production relies on primary feed, and farm data, as well as intelligent platforms. By leveraging technology, industry stakeholders will have access to validated Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) data that covers all major sources of animal protein. This data will help meet the requirements of regulatory bodies, retailers, and financial institutions, ensuring a more environmentally friendly impact on animal protein production.
As the world’s population grows, the demand for animal protein will continue to rise. To meet this demand sustainably, within planetary limits, will be a big challenge.
At dsm-firmenich we have been working for decades on food sustainability, especially with respect to animal proteins – it’s the basis of our purpose. We strongly believe in balanced, healthy nutrition with animal proteins being a highly nutritious and key part of a balanced, healthy diet. However, like other forms of food production livestock farming comes at a cost. This cost is increasingly evident and is highly nuanced depending on farming methods, geography and animal species. Nevertheless, the sustainability of mainstream animal production is under increasing scrutiny from the value chain, policymakers and associated stakeholders. This means that continuing to operate as we have done in the past is not an option. All players involved in the production of animal protein need to be aware of the challenges we are facing. We must work together to solve them – applying new thinking, new technologies, and new business models in order to create a more sustainable industry – protecting the planet, and being socially responsible and economically viable.
We have seen several examples around the world showing that it is possible, that it can be done. From carbon-neutral beef produced in Brazil without any deforestation to salmon produced in Norway with zero use of finite marine ingredients and helping to reduce pressure on our over-fished oceans. From huge and very traditional poultry and pork operators embracing sustainability measuring their impacts and setting up aggressive, publicly stated targets and actions to the largest fast-food chain in the world making a public commitment to zero deforestation and revolutionizing the relationship with their supply chain and civil society stakeholders to make it happen. From a small farm in Swaziland producing eggs to improve the nutrition and health of thousands of orphan children in the country, to the largest grain traders and meatpackers in the world getting together to adopt a satellite monitoring system to monitor and reduce deforestation from happening in their supply chains in Brazil. There are many initiatives and actions unfolding as we speak, based on new approaches to business, greater collaboration through the value chain and the greater use of technologies.
If the third agricultural revolution, known as the ‘Green Revolution’, brought significant productivity improvements in agriculture, the fourth agricultural revolution must, through precision technology, and digitalization, bring equitable advances in the sustainability of agricultural production. And the case for engaging all available technologies to improve the sustainability of animal protein production is an urgent priority given the estimates that animal farming accounts for 11% to 19% of all human-derived GHG emissions and this is set to rise without systemic change to our food systems and farming practices. Feed alone is responsible for between 50% and 90% of the environmental footprints of animal proteins, similar to the weight it has on the cost of production.
Making this change responsibly and with transparency requires accurate, credible environmental footprint measurement of animal production and it goes beyond GHG emissions to include nitrogen and phosphorus pollution, soil quality, the use of water resources, land use, and impacts on biodiversity. It also requires the use of accurate and credible data that is based on validated life cycle assessment (LCA) processes, scrutinized by global regulators, retailers and consumers and financial institutions.
A well run LCA qualifies, quantifies and pinpoints the environmental impacts along the animal protein value chain and allows for the evaluation of precise interventions to improve the farming process, reduce its environmental footprint, and make efficiency gains impacting the bottom line. Ultimately, it should enable operators, farmers and integrators to look at multiple farm comparisons, with benchmarks, or targets, identifying best practices, areas for improvement and investment in a targeted way. The good news is that there are publicaly available LCA methodologies allowing for that to happen that are science-based and defined by well-respected multistakeholder initiatives such as FAO LEAP, IPCC, EUPEF, ISO standards for LCA, ISO14040/44, the Agri-footprint database and the GFLI (Global Feed LCA Institute) database. There are even specific guidelines for carbon footprinting for dairy provided by IDF (International Dairy Federation) and for beef provided by the GRSB (Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef).
But these are very complex and sophisticated methodologies. Previously an LCA required external experts and was slow and expensive to produce results. The technology now exists in the form of a user-friendly, intelligent platform that has the functionality, speed and user independence to enable animal protein producers to improve their environmental impact. In one platform, multiple ‘what if’ scenarios can be run instantly by operators to qualify and quantify the best technologies such as energy resources, manure & farm/emission management and feed formulations and additives across multiple species, from dairy to aquaculture, to poultry, swine and beef. All industry stakeholders, be it the ingredient suppliers, feed millers, farmers, integrators, processors, and retailers, can today view, understand and run footprint improvements prior to implementing and investing on changes at farm level.
But for primary, granular and actionable environmental footprints be calculated, there is a key element needed: data. And in the case of animal proteins, mainly feed and farm data. Collaborative efforts to collect, anonymize, protect and share farm data will provide valuable insights and enable more informed decision-making.
While there is still a long way to go, there is a shared consensus that a sense of absolute urgency is necessary. The time has come to move beyond discussions and rhetoric and embark on taking meaningful action to scale. The time for action is now, and the industry – across full value chain – must rise to the occasion to shape a sustainable future for food and agriculture. Sustainability is a journey, not a destination.
The article was written for the AFMA Forum 2023 as the abstract of the keynote speaker presentation.
30 August 2023
Carlos Marcelo Saviani is the Global Sustainability and Business Solutions Lead for Animal Nutrition and Health. He holds a BS in Animal Science later complemented by an MBA.
Carlos has 25 years of experience working to improve the sustainability of animal proteins across the world. At DSM he is responsible for the development and implementation of the global animal nutrition and health sustainability strategy. He works closely with customers and the marketing, sales and innovation teams to incorporate sustainability as a business driver.
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