Circular Feed: key to sustainability

Circular Feed” for animals is a relatively recent concept, even though the European feed industry has always recovered nutrients in secondary raw materials from other industrial processes. Nutrient recovery and reducing nutrient losses are essential as this ensures the contribution of feed production in the circular economy of livestock farming. This circular food system keeps valuable nutrients in the food chain that would otherwise go to waste.

The feed industry plays a crucial role in closing nutrient cycles and optimising the bioavailability of nutrients for human consumption. Products derived from livestock farming such as meat, dairy, eggs, as well as fish from aquaculture, are an excellent source of nutrient-dense food for humans. Farm animals are reared on feed made from plant parts that humans do not eat, such as grass or residues from food processing activities. The recovery of wheat bran from flour millers, for which there was no human food market, citrus pulp derived from citrus fruit processing, or beet pulp pellets and molasses derived from sugar production are good examples.

FEFAC recently published “Circular Feed – Optimised Nutrient Recovery Through Animal Nutrition” – a publication showcasing the European feed industry‘s practical interpretation of the “Circular Feed” concept with examples of how the sector contributes to the circular economy.

The European Commission’s Farm to Fork Strategy, published in May 2020, provided additional stimulus on how to make more use of alternative feed ingredients and consequently lower the environmental footprint of animal products. It is clear that the increased use of circular feed and less reliance on agricultural land will result in lower greenhouse gas emissions related to feed production.

But FEFAC highlights that the impact assessment of the forthcoming EU Sustainable Food Systems Framework must critically review extreme measures in the EU regulatory framework that restrict circularity iand create bottlenecks, limiting access to a broader range of circular nutrient sources.   

“In the publication, we try to describe our contribution to the circular economy – Anton van den Brink, FEFAC Senior Policy & Communication Manager, comments – Circular Feed is a concept built from other kinds of industry sectors, like construction, litter waste and resources transformation. So, we take inspiration from other definitions and experiences and try to apply that to feed, to show that we are proud of the upcycling process. This is a circular economy as you have secondary raw materials with nutrients that, through the farm animals and the upcycling process, you transform into highly bioavailable nutrients for human consumption. Humans can’t consume feed, so there is no competition. The feed sector industry contributes to assisting livestock farming to become part of more circular, low-carbon food production systems”.

“The upcycling of nutrients through farm animals, converting secondary raw materials to highly bioavailable nutrients for human consumption, is an important part of our licence to produce as European feed manufacturers – FEFAC President Asbjørn Børsting adds – We can provide many concrete examples already today, allowing us to increase the share in feed formulations of circular feed, not competing with direct human food use. However, we recommend a systematic and critical review of current legislative bottlenecks in the EU regulatory framework which currently restrict a higher level of circularity in EU food systems through innovative animal nutrition solutions, to allow for further optimisation of our circular economy potential in the forthcoming EU Sustainable Food Systems Framework”.

A Sustainable Food Systems Framework should  ensure that use of nutrients emerging from the circular economy is not deviated towards bioenergy use because of misguided incentives for renewable energies. FEFAC recommends setting up a clear hierarchy for nutrient-rich biomass, prioritising the food chain use of nutrients over non-food use. Policy pressure to boost bioenergy production may cause valuable residual biomass flows to be lost from the food chain to energy production.