Special edition: environmental footprint reduction initiatives

System for life cycle assessment of feed hailed as 'milestone'

By Jane Byrne

- Last updated on GMT

System for life cycle assessment of feed hailed as 'milestone'

Related tags Feed Greenhouse gas

The new LCA guidelines, developed under the LEAP project, are ‘game changing’ as they synchronize the plethora of existing feed impact assessment methods and provide the feed sector with one set of rules to reduce its environmental footprint, said FEFAC.

“It is said that if you can measure it you can manage it but feed producers need environmental footprint results that are comparable and understood by the whole supply chain. 

The new harmonized and credible methodology​derived under the Livestock Environmental Assessment and Performance (LEAP) partnership will enable, for the first time, such transparency and, as such, it is a milestone,” ​Nicolas Martin, policy adviser at the EU Feed Manufacturers’ Federation (FEFAC), told FeedNavigator.

LEAP is a multi-stakeholder initiative coordinated by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) to improve the sustainability of the livestock sector through better metrics and data. 

“The project involves the private sector, public administration and NGOs, with representation from international feed associations and every livestock segment.  It essentially developed out of the strong reaction to the 2006 FAO report - Livestock’s Long Shadow​ - which claimed livestock contribution to greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) was 18%.   

The feed and livestock industries reckoned this was an overly simplistic evaluation and believed it would be beneficial for stakeholders to work together, rather than in isolation, to agree on how to more accurately measure GHG emissions from the rearing of farmed animals including their diets,” ​said Martin.

The resulting feed Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) guidelines are based on international scientific consensus and are robust, said Martin.

Similar recommendations have been released, under the LEAP umbrella, for small ruminants and poultry. “In addition, LCA guidelines for pig production are currently being developed while the methodology in relation to the environmental impact of the raising of large ruminants has now been released for public consultation,”​ he said.

Broad scope

But he said the feed guidelines are the broadest in terms of scope covering a wide range of environmental impact categories including climate change, fossil energy use, acidification, eutrophication, and land use.

Globally, feed-related emissions account for about 3.3 gigatonnes CO2-eq, which is about half of total emissions from livestock supply chains.

“What is clear is that there is an impact on the environment from livestock production and feed is a significant contributor to this. But now we can be a part of the solution,” ​said Martin.

The approach used in the feed LCA guidelines is process-based modelling, which the document states is ‘intended to provide a static representation of average conditions’.

The methodology is meant to be used by livestock producers assessing on-farm resources and animal performance, by feed producers and processors seeking a better understanding of the environmental performance of products in their production processes and also by policy makers when taking account of and reporting specifications for livestock supply chains.

FEFAC said it is hoped the guidance will also increase the understanding around animal feed chains as well as help identify supply chain hotspots and opportunities to improve and reduce environmental impact, and to increase efficiency and productivity.

The American Feed Industry Association (AFIA) and the International Feed Industry Federation (IFIF) are also founding LEAP partners.

Feed database

Martin said a project running parallel to the LCA feed guidelines initiative is one aimed at developing a complementary feed database and is industry funded:

“The feed sector recognizes it is critical to supplement the LEAP devised methodology with good quality data on the environmental impact of feed ingredients so that a feed producer or chain partner would know, for example, the energy consumption of a given raw material.

We need to build a database that includes such information from every region where feed ingredients are sourced and we have set aside three years in order to achieve this,”​ he said.

Martin said it will be up to each region to determine which organization is responsible for collating the data and populating the feed database. The EU and US leg of the project will begin this autumn, and he said the feed industry lead on the project will report on progress to the FAO so that the platform, when completed, will be fully endorsed under the LEAP partnership. 

Misguided media reports

Hsin Huang, secretary general of the International Meat Secretariat (IMS), told us the LEAP methodology should help alter the public’s perception of the meat production industry following on from the many years of “misguided”​ reporting around the livestock sector’s contribution to GHGs and climate change.

“The livestock industry has not really been present in the public discussion on climate change. We have been regarded previously as being too secretive, too closed.

The time has now come to occupy a greater share of the media space on this and the LEAP guidelines will help to counter negative media reports, which have not always been accurate, on the environmental footprint of livestock farming,” ​he said.

But Huang stressed such rehabilitation won’t happen overnight. “It is a long term process,”​ he said.

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