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The Development of a European Protein Plan and Environmentally Friendly Feed

The feed industries in the European Union and Turkey both have a significant protein deficit. We need more protein than is ‘locally’ produced and therefore have to resort to imports. The search for protein alternatives is looking to be boosted by the European Commission with a European Protein Plan, with FEFAC as one of primary stakeholders. In the meantime FEFAC has worked on tools that harmonise the measurement of the environmental impact of compound feed production; the Feed PEFCR and the GFLI Database. 

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Alexander Döring
FEFAC Secretary General

On 22-23 November 2018 the European Commission will unveil the draft of its highly anticipated European Protein Plan at a high-level conference in Vienna, Austria, with the aim of supporting the cultivation of protein crops in the EU. Stimulation of protein crop production is of political importance for many European countries, although this is unfortunately often motivated out of opposition against imported GMO feed materials. FEFAC supports the development of a European Protein Plan, which would feed into FEFAC’s search for alternative protein sources that started years ago already. The EU strategic protein supply is a complex matter. There is no single shot solution to solve the protein deficit and self-sufficiency is not a realistic goal. FEFAC’s expectation is that the deficit is here to stay for the foreseeable future, meaning that working on responsibly produced imported protein sources is equally important. It is one of the reasons why FEFAC has invested in the development of its Soy Sourcing Guidelines, which set the feed industry requirements for the production of responsible soy.

The discussion on the EU feed ban and the potential feed use of processed animal protein (PAP) is always a topic that attracts interest when it comes to alternative protein sources. The nutritional profile is very valuable and the authorisation of poultry PAP in pig feed and pig PAP in poultry feed is still part of the EU’s working programme, although the dossier has suffered many delays over the past years. The PCR methods to detect poultry and pig proteins have now been validated, meaning the analytical tools to control for compliance against the intra-species recycling ban (i.e. the ban of poultry proteins in poultry and pig proteins in pig feed) are ready. The important next step in the analytical process is the establishment of enforceable action limits to secure absence of false positives. It is difficult to predict when the actual political approval process would be started and with what result. As it stands, the first one up for authorisation would be pig PAP in poultry feed.

As regards the feasibility of actually seeing poultry and pig PAP in compound feed manufacturing, FEFAC is somewhat sceptical. There are only few feed mills that solely produce pig or poultry feed, meaning compliance with the EU ban on intra-species recycling will be a huge challenge for multi-purpose feed mills and probably too costly. The availability of PAP for the compound feed sector is another question, as this is estimated to be limited. In the past decade, all non-ruminant PAP has already found new outlets, for example in the markets with higher margins such as pet food and aquafeed, the latter authorised since 2013. An important lesson that can be learned from the aquafeed authorisation is that market acceptance is still a barrier of significance. With the unfortunate legacy of the European feed industry, we cannot underestimate the sensitivity of this topic and it is highly likely that the markets in several EU countries will show immediate resistance to the use of PAP in poultry and pig feed following any potential political approval.

Since the summer of 2017 the PAP from a specific range of insects is also approved for aquafeed. Market reception has fortunately not been negative and aquafeed producers are keen on incorporating more insect meal as it becomes available. The next step is the authorisation of insect PAP in poultry feed, which is supposed to coincide with the authorisation of pig PAP in poultry feed, although it is less controversial. The industrial insect farming sector is still very young in the EU and it will take time before large amounts of protein can be delivered to the compound feed industry. Currently the only substrates that can be fed to insects are the same that can legally be used in any other type of livestock farming for food production.

We should however not expect that the European Protein question can be solved by PAP or insect farming, or any other individual alternative protein. All protein that becomes additionally available is welcome in the ambition to reduce the deficit. In 2015 FEFAC held a workshop to also discuss the potential of algae, single cell proteins and marine ingredients such as krill, which all have their qualities and limitations. One of the ambitions of the European Protein Plan will be to stimulate the cultivation of protein crops. In this context FEFAC has highlighted that the largest contribution of cultivated European protein currently comes from rapeseed meal, whose production in fact depends on the stimulation for growing crop-based biofuels through the Renewable Energy Directive. FEFAC therefore constantly reminds policy makers to always consider the protein dimension in the evaluation of this energy policy with crucial side effects for the European compound feed industry. The recent political agreement on the Renewable Energy Directive 2020-2030 determined that the contribution of crop-based biofuels to the renewable energy targets in the transport sector will be capped at the Member State consumption level of 2020, allowing for 1% further growth and a maximum of 7%.

“Protein quality” is an element that FEFAC has called attention for during the public consultation of the European Protein Plan, as not all protein is the same. Crucial parameters of protein quality are the concentration levels of protein, the amino acid profile and the absence of anti-nutrients. For example, the low protein concentration in digestible essential amino acids of protein crops such as peas and lupines is the key limiting factor for the incorporation into animal feed. An additional dimension is that soybean meal scores very well on all protein quality parameters, which also include palatability, digestibility and safety. EU grown vegetable protein has to compete with soybean meal as well as other well established protein-rich sources such as DDGs and corn gluten feed. FEFAC hopes that protein quality for feed purposes can become a field of research that is interesting enough to invest in for the crop breeding sector and developers of industrial processing solutions.
At the same time it is not entirely sure what the effects on GHG and phosphate emissions will be of a shift from soybean meal to alternative protein sources and whether it would be progress in terms of producing environmentally friendly feed. The measurement of ‘low emission feed’ is becoming increasingly more precise, especially now that FEFAC has launched the PEFCR Feed for Food-Producing Animals methodology and the GFLI Database this year. Together they allow for the accurate and reliable calculation of the environmental footprint based on a harmonised, robust and consistent tools. It is a given fact that the feed production stage represents the largest share of the environmental impact of the production of animal products such as pig meat, poultry meat, eggs, milk and fish. Some people may say that we only stand to lose by investing in the measurement of the environmental impact of feed production, but with the given fact just mentioned, livestock farmers will look to us for answers when they are asked or required to lower their environmental impact and with these new tools we can formulate feed taking the environmental request into account. For FEFAC it is an inevitable responsibility to take and the job would have probably been done by someone else if we had chosen to ignore it, with almost certainly a lower quality result. It is important to stress that both the Feed PEFCR and the GFLI Database have an international dimension and we would welcome the involvement of Turkish partners.

Former foodstuffs are a type of feed ingredient that would typically fit into a low emission feed formulation, because they are the result of another industrial process (i.e. food production). In environmental footprinting terms they carry a ‘zero value’ at the start of their creation in the food manufacturing plant. Former foodstuffs are foodstuffs that are no longer intended for human consumption for practical or logistical reasons, but still have a safe and useful purpose in animal nutrition. Typical examples are bread, biscuits, chocolate bars, breakfast cereals and pasta. Because of the high energy content in sugar, starch and/or oils, processed former foodstuffs can serve as an alternative to cereal grains in compound feed production. Specialised former foodstuff processors, who can mechanically remove any packaging material, collect their material mostly from food manufacturing facilities and increasingly from supermarkets. EFFPA, the European Former Foodstuff Processing Association, estimates that in the EU around 3.5 million tonnes of former foodstuffs are annually processed into animal feed. The EU is looking to stimulate the use of former foodstuffs in animal feed in an effort to reduce food waste through the recent publication of Guidelines for the feed use of food no longer intended for human consumption.

In the EU former foodstuffs used in feed for food-producing animals must be of vegetable origin, although there are exemptions for milk, eggs, honey and porcine gelatine. Former foodstuffs should also not be confused with catering waste from restaurants, which is strictly forbidden. When food business operators wish to sell their former foodstuffs for feed production, they should take responsibility for the feed suitability of their materials and educate themselves on applicable EU feed legislation.

Feed additives also have an important role to play in the challenge of bringing down emissions related to livestock farming. Innovation is delivering solutions for resource efficiency through digestibility enhancers, reduction of nitrogen and phosphorous emissions via synthetic amino acids and phytases and gut health improvers to help farm animals cope with pathogens and reduce the need for veterinary treatment. At the same time, the approval requirements for feed additives are getting increasingly demanding, leading to a reduction of a number of existing authorisations and a general discouragement for investing in research and development.

We also suggest you to read our previous article titled "Feed Raw Materials And Raw Material Supply".

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