Project aims to find protein feeds ‘fit for the future’

By Jane Byrne contact

- Last updated on GMT

'There isn’t really a sense of urgency about the alternative protein topic right now in the feed space. It is not a burning platform. But we want to get the conversation started.' © istock/ipopba
'There isn’t really a sense of urgency about the alternative protein topic right now in the feed space. It is not a burning platform. But we want to get the conversation started.' © istock/ipopba
The team behind the Protein Challenge, an initiative aimed at taking the pressure off land and sea for feed, has begun work on the development of a new benchmarking tool. 

Called Feed Compass, the project is aimed at reaching consensus on a set of criteria to help compare different types of feed proteins and to incentivize the use of the more sustainable ones.

The initiative is aimed at future-proofing value chains and helping ensure food security in the long term. 

“We had our first meeting last week in Utrecht, in the Netherlands with stakeholders from across the value chain, and a number of experts in sustainable feed. Mike Vellings from aquaculture investment fund, Aquaspark, hosted the meeting,”​ said Simon Billing, principal sustainability advisor, Forum for the Future, a not for profit group facilitating the Protein Challenge​.

The steering group of the Protein Challenge includes, among others, feed ingredient suppliers Evonik, Volac, Calysta, along with the WWF and retailers like Ahold-Delhaize and Waitrose.

External experts such as consultancy, Think Step, which helped BASF develop a sustainability tool, and FEFAC policy advisor, Nicolas Martin, also attended last week's workshop. “FEFAC has been doing a lot of work in this area, and has data we can leverage,”​ Billing told us.

Not yet a burning platform 

Feed manufacturers are not scrambling to get aboard the alternative protein train just yet, he acknowledged, despite question marks over how sustainable, economically and environmentally, a continued reliance on soy from South America as a feedstock for livestock and farmed fish rations is.

“There isn’t really a sense of urgency about the alternative protein topic right now in the feed space. It is not a burning platform. But we want to get the conversation started,”​ he continued. 

FeedNavigator ran an online webinar evaluating the barriers to growth in alternative feed proteins last October. It can be accessed on demand by following this link​.

A survey the Forum for the Future ran​ found the cost competitiveness of alternative feed proteins is the main barrier to take-up, the lack of tonnage another hurdle.

However, the feed compass project is hoping to engage stakeholders further up the value chain like retailers, agro cooperatives, animal protein manufacturers, investors and NGOs who Billing reckons are the real influencers.

“We want to broaden out the conversation, go beyond the environmental impact and start talking about the social and economic implications of sustainable feed protein use,”​ said Billing.

There are also plans to engage with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO), UC Davis and the UK’s Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) on the initiative, said Billing.

Forum for the Future Survey Findings

In 2016, the Forum for the Future surveyed 62 industry stakeholders, in locations all over the world, in an attempt to understand the challenges and solutions in scaling feed innovation.

Stakeholders were asked which trends they believe will be most important in driving change in the feed industry over the next 20 years, and why.

  • Some 47% of respondents believe that changing consumer preferences for protein will drive change - from growing demand for meat and dairy products in some parts of the world, to a shift towards more plant-based diets in others. 
  • A further 34% thought that consumer concern for sustainability would drive change in the feed industry. 
  • In addition, 27% thought that development and commercialization of alternatives to soy, cereal grains and fishmeal would gradually be able to compete – such as algae or insect-based feeds.

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