Contribution of vitamin nutrition to a more sustainable farming
ADDRESSING THE CHALLENGES OF TODAY AND TOMORROW
Today, well into the 21st century, the crucial issues relating to food production are changing. Key concepts such as productivity and efficiency continue to be of vital importance. Still, more and more, the emphasis is on the significance of terms such as sustainability, animal health and welfare, food quality from animal origin, and food waste.
Everything indicates that continuous development in the field of animal nutrition is becoming essential to meet current and future challenges. Challenges such as replacing antibiotics and coccidiostats, combatting higher incidences of more aggressive animal diseases, and responding to a growing focus on more sustainable farming, in which our industry has a critical role to play in shaping a better world in line with the Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations. Specifically, our industry needs to:
⦁ produce cost-effective animal protein production – for all
⦁ provide high-quality food and feed – for a better life for all
⦁ develop proper livelihoods – for 30% of the world population working today in agriculture
⦁ treat animals well until the end of their life – all of them
⦁ eliminate the negative impact of food production – on us and the environment.
In parallel, as a player who aspires to be a leader in climate action, it is important for the feed industry to lead by example, constantly seeking to reduce the carbon emissions and the environmental footprint of products and processes. That means closely managing absolute greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and energy efficiency. A growing number of companies are setting long-term goals, validated by the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi) aligned with the Paris Climate Agreement (COP 21) of 2015, to reach net-zero emissions before 2050. These are ambitious and long-term challenges in which the optimal use of vitamins in animal nutrition should be part of the solution.
COMMITMENT TO SUSTAINABILITY
Providing the right levels of high-quality and sustainably produced vitamins to feed mills, integrators, and farmers will help them improve animal health, well-being, and performance, while also protecting the environment, succeeding in a dynamic and ever-changing global market, and enhancing both profits and environmental sustainability.
Optimizing the performance and improving the sustainability of feed additives and premixes plays an important role in reducing the environmental burden of animal protein production.
Excipients such as rice hulls and calcium carbonate can make up to 50% of a premix composition, but little can be done to reduce their carbon footprint further. The critical products with the potential to contribute to carbon footprint and environmental impact reductions in premixes are the nutritional supplements such as vitamins.
Reducing the impact of vitamins and other feed additive operations might enable feed mills and farmers to become more sustainable, reduce their risk profile, and potentially benefit from the value created from future carbon tax savings (Figure 1.1).
Carbon pricing – whether implemented as a tax or cap and trade system – seeks to reduce GHG emissions by putting a direct financial liability on industries and activities that are large GHG emitters. It is a policy intervention to encourage the reduction of harmful activities.
The sustainability of mainstream animal production is increasingly questioned as demand rises. International bodies agree that animal protein production is one of the activities that need to reduce carbon emissions if we want to solve the climate crisis. Reductions in the impact of agricultural and animal production processes can be supported by greater use of sustainably produced nutritional solutions.
Additionally, governments may seek to impose low-carbon product standards, further environmental regulation, or tax schemes, on animal protein production or products as an incentive to reduce emissions and steer consumer consumption. The groundwork for these interventions is already being laid. In Germany, value-added tax increases on meat and dairy products are being proposed. The New Zealand government has agreed to include farm-level emissions in its Emissions Trading Scheme by 2025, and the Dutch government has committed to studying ‘fair meat prices’ ahead of fiscal reforms in 2022.
The agricultural and animal protein products supply chain prepare to minimize the risks posed by these changes or face severe financial penalties. The only way to do this is to significantly reduce animal production’s impact on the climate and the environment. Equally, redesigning existing incentive systems (i.e. subsidies) and scaling up high-quality voluntary carbon credit systems to directly reward emission reductions can significantly accelerate the transition.
This transition to a lower-carbon future for animal proteins can be facilitated by supplying nutritional ingredients, such as vitamins, with industry-leading performance to improve the efficiency of animal production systems while reducing the carbon footprint of these feed additives and those within which they are utilized (Figure 1.2).
UPDATING THE NUTRITIONAL STANDARDS OF VITAMINS IN A CONSTANTLY EVOLVING WORLD
Vitamins play a decisive role in both human and animal nutrition. As organic catalysts present in small quantities in most foods, they are essential for the normal functioning of metabolic and physiological processes such as growth, development, health, and reproduction. The requirements for vitamins in animals are dynamic: they vary according to new genotypes, levels of yield, and production systems. Vitamin functions and requirements are becoming increasingly well known.
The concept of Optimum Vitamin Nutrition® (OVN) for animals is essential today. Its objective is to develop a new standard for vitamin supplementation in feed in order to improve animal health status and resilience to diseases and environmental stress, which will translate into better animal productivity and homogeneity. Moreover, the quality of food produced by those animals can be enhanced, improving human health and reducing food waste. The latter is critical in a global society in which, unfortunately, many people still do not have access to the correct quantity and quality of food.
When we talk about optimum vitamin supplementation in the diet of animals, we refer to the provision of vitamin levels both over and above the established minimum requirements for avoiding deficiencies and adapted to the specific conditions of each animal species to achieve the objectives mentioned above.
Historically, the objective of the vitamin recommendations provided by various international scientific organs – such as the National Research Council (NRC USA), the Agriculture Research Council (ARC UK), and the National Research Institute for Agriculture, Food and Environment (Institut National de Recherche Agronomique et l’Environnement, INRAE, France) – was preventing nutritional shortages or deficiencies. Some of the studies on which they are based are over 40 years old. We all know that the livestock industry today has not much in common with the industry as it was at that time. Figure 1.3 shows that broiler body weight and feed conversion ratio (FCR) have improved up to 30% in the last 20 years, mainly due to genetic improvements.
Therefore, it is logical to infer that nutrition programs for farm animals must be adjusted, including vitamin supplementation, consistently with improved animal management techniques and genetic make-up. The case of vitamin D (Figure 1.4) illustrates how an improved broiler FCR requires adjustment of vitamin levels:
⦁ as 170 g less feed is needed to reach 2.3 kg body weight (–5%) when comparing 2017 to 2021 Ross 308 genetics
⦁ then vitamin D3 level in feed (International Unit (IU)/kg) should be increased by 5% to keep the same vitamin D3 intake by the bird.
Likewise, in recent times there have been important legislative changes around the world which limit the use of compounds such as antibiotics and growth promoters, substances that until recently had formed a regular part of animals’ diets and the animal trials on which vitamins requirements were based.
At the same time, many countries are developing new rules on animal welfare which, in the short to medium terms, will entail less “intensiveness” in the livestock industry, aiming to improve the animals’ health and well-being. Meanwhile, our farmers need to be competitive
Enough regarding livestock productivity (weight gain, FCR, the final weight of the animal, mortality, etc.) to survive strong international competition where free trade is a tangible reality.
From the nutritional point of view, in these fast-changing circumstances, so different from those we have become accustomed to in recent years, it is essential to re-evaluate the vitamin requirements of animals with the aim of safely and efficiently producing healthy and nourishing food that meets consumer expectations, always under sustainable farming practices.