‘Do we want to be responsible for cutting down rainforest for feed production?’ That was the rhetorical question on which part of the main theme of the European symposium on poultry nutrition was based upon. A clear move of poultry producers towards responsible European soy is observed, but this feed source has its limitations.
For poultry producers within the European Union, feedstuff soy is a both necessary source of protein and an ingredient surrounded with concerns. Soybeans and soybean meal are worldwide commodities, but with societal concerns growing and legislative pressure on climate issues, the interchangeability of soy is under pressure. From a worldwide perspective, there are multiple drivers for that. While demand for soy is growing year after year, its reputation is at risk because soy is implicated in the degradation of ecologically sensitive areas. For example, soy has been identified as one key driver of the destruction of the Brazilian savannah and the Brazilian rainforest. On top of that there is the issue of genetically modified soy. The use of genetically modified soy has been the subject of heated debate, and anti-GMO campaigners insist that modified soy can never be considered ‘sustainable’. Especially in Europe conscious consumers pressure the industry not to produce using GMO soy.
One way of tackling some of the issues surrounding soy is certification. In the case of the soy industry, a number of certification and labelling organisations are active. The Roundtable on Responsible Soy (RTRS), International Sustainability & Carbon Certification (ISCC), ProTerra, and 2BSvs (the Biomass, Biofuels, Sustainability voluntary scheme) are the leading market recognised schemes. These schemes differ in terms of criteria and audit standards. Ideally certification is acting across the supply chain to develop a market for more responsibly produced soy is crucial in addressing deforestation, labour standards, chemical use and other issues. But as Yves Tohermes, speaker at the ESPN and feed specialist at the German organisation for animal feed stated: “Certification is not the holy grail, it is a business model for the soy suppliers. For the producers, certified soy is only feasible if the consumer wants to pay for it and we know that soy is still a very price sensitive commodity. On top of that, we all know that soy can become a weapon, when it is not interchangeable. All certification can lead to impossible supply nightmares by a simple action of one VIP making a bold statement on Twitter.”
European feed manufactures often choose for the safer option and source their soy close to home. It is a fact that the US, Brazil and Argentina are by far the largest soybean producers with respectively 124, 117 and 55 million tonnes of production. However, the soy production of the so called Danube soy in Europe is growing rapidly. In 2018 the total acreage of soybean in Europe was 4.3 million hectare, double the number compared to 2011. According to Donau Soja’s forecast production will expand to 15 million tonnes by 2025. Soybean specialist Volker Hahn at the ESPN: “In real numbers the EU doesn’t play a role compared to the large producers. And on top of that, 45% of European production comes from the Ukraine, not a member of the EU 28.” He continues: “To become fully self sufficient the EU would need 32 million tonnes extra, on top of today’s EU production of soy. With average crop yields that would mean 15 million hectares extra planted with soy.” The plant breeding expert sees this as a real possibility, but the economic factor plays an important role: “From a plant breeding perspective we are moving in the right direction, increasing yields per hectare. But in Europe, soy has to compete for land usage with high value crops. On average a farmer in a European climate can earn twice as much with corn or wheat production, so there is quite a gap. That said, soy is a trade weapon. Brazil is sold out at the moment, and even with US soy being cheap, there is the GMO issue there.”
With part of the soy equation boiling down to sustainability and environmental issues, lowering protein in poultry diets can be part of the solution. Bertrand Méda of the French INRA institute sees lots of potential in the use of crystalline amino acids for optimal use of crude protein. “Inclusion rates can go lower without compromising animal performance and with great improvements on the environmental impact. A reduction of crude protein with 1% for instance, will reduce nitrogen excretion by 10%. Also, precision feeding can reduce feed costs as well.” Mr Méda promotes a new view on feed production, not only focusing on nutritional characteristics and price, but also on the impact on the environment.
Speaker Anna Rogiewicz from the Canadian university of Manitoba and Emily Burton of the Nottingham Trent University in the UK focused on other protein sources as a soy alternative. Ms Rogiewicz worked on the viability of low glucosinolate rapeseed meal as a valuable protein source. “Canola meal is commonly used in poultry nutrition as an economically viable alternative to soybean meal, but it still can’t fully replace it due to the presence of antinutritive factors, low metabolisable energy value and less consistent AA digestibility. However, I see improved processing conditions and the development of high-protein canola and the application of feed enzymes, which can mitigate such limitations.” Ms Rogiewicz’ research has shown that the nutritive potential of canola meal for poultry can be fully realised when diets are formulated based on the digestible AA and available energy contents.
Emily Burton sees potential in using co-products from the bioethanol production as an environmentally sustainable feed ingredient. “Traditional bioethanol co-products provide a major route for converting excess fibre into food via animal feed. However, technological innovations now allow additional streams to utilise other portions of the co-products, optimising value of the process and improving the sustainability of production.” She sees the potential for yeast to be separated from the co-product stream and to be marketed as feed protein and as a feed supplement. “It’s all about balancing the 4F’s, feed, fuel, food and fibre. A holistic view on current bio-refinery can limit it as a competitor for protein and produce a range of products, including protein to bridge the period until later versions of bioethanol production such as cellulose based refinery, become available.”