Vegetable-based proteins are gaining more traction as feed ingredients, said Ernie Hansen, manager of swine nutrition and technical services at Hubbard Feeds. He recently spoke at Alltech’s One: The Idea Conference on examining novel proteins for feed.
The initial research to evaluate a new protein for a diet, in pigs, or another species, is triggered by a range of factors, said Hansen. Sometimes it is driven by scarcity of a specific ingredient or by interest in having alternatives for those situations or by asking, “What’s next?”
“That’s the competitive spirit of the management teams,” he told FeedNavigator. “If you’re not continually striving towards what’s next you’re never going be a leader.”
Process is king
When a new ingredient is being tested for potential use, it can take several months to a year, said Hansen. About 80% of the understanding of what the product can do can be generated at the laboratory testing stage, but that R&D phase alone is, evidently, insufficient, he added.
“You have to get to 99% confident, you’ve got to feed multiple groups of pigs under different environments and that is what takes time,” he said.
In terms of evaluating new feeds. “We can assay the ingredients, we can formulate them, [know] this is the way it should act, and then we need to be students of the pig and set a trial so the pig can confirm or refute our hypothesis.”
There are huge challenges when formulating for the ideal protein content, with huge variation in amino acid assay and standard illeal digestibility (SID) assay lab analysis, or in raw material processing, diet variation and animal variation, biological, genetic, disease and environmental variation, said Hansen. "These are all sources of variation and they all interact with the ingredient. We have researcher variation in how we run our statistics and how we interpret those statistics, it really gets quite challenging," he continued.
"How do we make decisions then? How do we decide which SID value to use? You can pick the lowest SID value, you won't be wrong, but it will be highest price; you can pick the lowest SID value because it is low cost but it is formulating below the animal's requirements and there will be some consequences such as significant decreases in animal's performance.
"You need to run a novel protein ingredient through a stress test, with multiple replications. Look at it below the nutritional requirements, so you can fully assess its biological value, its digestibility, look at it in a antibiotic free environment to see if it has some antimicrobial activity, look at the nutrigenomics of the ingredient. Then you need to listen to what the pigs say because they don't lie," explained Hansen during his talk.
Vegetable protein trend
Pressure to reformulate or use new ingredients can stem from new regulation, new development methods or customer input, but external events can also play a role.
The oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010 limited fishmeal supply, and encouraged alternative inputs, he said. And the outbreak of the Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea Virus (PEDv) in the US in 2013 also altered how some viewed porcine origin or plasma derived proteins, according to the Hubbard Feeds representative.
“PEDv did to the porcine ingredient market for swine feed what the Gulf oil spill did to fishmeal inclusion,” said Hansen. "It changed dramatically how we fed pigs, and the ingredients that we used."
The animal protein industry is still a valid segment of the industry, but now there is more focus on vegetable proteins with an increasing migration away from a reliance on plasma derived protein in pig diets, he added.
While there has been less in-depth research in that area, there is pressure from the whole value chain to explore alternatives, continued Hansen.
“The fast food chains are going to all-vegetable fed animals, so there’s the consumer trend there,” he said.
There also is interest in finding products that carry a health benefit, added Hansen.