As a part of its holistic chicken sustainability strategy, the food service group says it has been investing in pioneering research into potential alternatives to soy in chicken diets for many years.
“One of the main reasons we are looking at alternative [feed] proteins is because of our commitment to forests. We want to ensure that by 2020 the soy we purchase is not coming from deforested land.
"To try to meet the demands of the chicken industry in decades to come, it is really important that we start looking now at alternative [feed proteins to soy] because there is simply isn’t the land that is not covered in tropical forest available so that by 2050 we can feed the world chicken supplied through soy... and it will take some time to develop them [feed protein replacements] to the stage where they can be used commercially,” said Nicola Robinson, senior manager on the global sustainability team at McDonald’s Corporation.
She was speaking about that research work at FeedNavigator’s event, Feed Protein Vision 2018, held in Amsterdam earlier this month.
“McDonald’s has been partnering with one of our chicken suppliers, Cargill, as well as a number of academics institutions on these projects so that they might one day become a commercial reality,” she said.
The findings so far...
Insect meal for use in chicken feed would appear to have more potential than seaweed meal in the short-term, said Robinson.
The findings, so far, of the work backed by McDonald's show insect meal is more digestible than vegetable protein in poultry diets, resulting in a positive impact on litter quality and welfare. However, the economic cost of insect protein is currently about double its nutritional value, she said.
McDonald’s said a survey it carried out with over 3,000 consumers in the US, China and the UK showed they care about the feed given to chickens, and are also concerned about antibiotic treatment, the health and welfare of the birds.
Protein enrichment of seaweed can increase protein content, according to another strand of the research effort looking at macroalgae, she told delegates at Feed Protein Vison 2018.
The researchers saw that the amino acid profile similar of seaweed is similar to soy and permits substitution of soy up to 18 days with good digestibility. However, the high sodium content of seaweed is a technical hurdle that needs to be overcome, and requires further investigation, added Robinson.
“With both of them [insects and seaweed], there is the challenge that we have of scaling them up and getting them to have a competitive cost to soy.”
Robinson also chairs and represents McDonald’s on the Sustainable Agriculture Initiative Platform Beef Working Group, a platform working to support measurable positive impacts on beef sustainability.