Animal feed has an major role to play in circular agriculture. The social debate on this subject is gaining relevance in terms of nutrient efficiency, reusing raw materials and reducing impact in the production chain, making it high time to delve deeper into the world of circular raw materials and animal feed. With this in mind, we spoke to Wiebe Mulder, head of Research and Development at the VanDrie Group.
Of all the raw materials that go into animal feed, the vast majority aren't fit for human consumption. In contrast, co-products that arise during food production can be processed into animal feed. An example of such a product is whey, a residual waste flow generated from manufacturing cheese, and which has been used in calf feed for many years. However, improved production processes mean these types of residual waste flows are increasingly deemed fit for human consumption, with these raw materials then finding their way onto the food market. This is encouraging animal feed producers such as the VanDrie Group to investigate exploitable alternative residual waste flows.
"Not everyone will agree," begins Wiebe Mulder, "but research into alternative raw materials is actually quite exciting." Wiebe's expression radiates passion for research and development. He continues: "It's not as simple as that, however, as we have very strict requirements when it comes to raw materials. It has to be right in terms of food safety, while, at the same time, a specific raw material also has to match the other raw materials in the feed package." Alternative protein-rich residual waste flows are often not directly suitable for use in animal feed. "Solubility in feed isn't always that good; similarly, not all protein sources can be equally well absorbed by calves, with this lower digestibility leading to less efficiency in animal feed." This in turn adversely affects calf development and leads to deteriorating sustainability performance.
which is why the VanDrie Group aims to continue research into alternative raw materials, and how these can be made available more quickly for use in animal feed. "We’ve recently launched a public-private research project together with the Protein Competence Centre (PCC), NIZO Food Research, Hanze University of Applied Sciences, Van Hall Larenstein University of Applied Sciences, Wageningen University & Research, Mars Petcare and Duynie Group.''
Isn't it nice to be able to contribute to making the animal feed sector more sustainable through research? - Wiebe Mulder
Over the next two years, this consortium’s researchers will be developing strategies to enhance protein digestibility in protein-rich plant-based raw material flows. The solution is down to a small processing step in the raw materials. Several techniques are being investigated, such as the use of enzymes, extrusion and gentle mechanical force, and participating parties have decided to focus their attention on so-called 'mild processes' requiring little energy. “Processing raw materials using a lot of energy isn’t sustainable, as the high energy consumption would negate any environmental gains made through improved residual-waste flow use.” We point out that to Wiebe that sustainability and research always involve dilemmas and choices. "Most definitely", he replies, "but they often also deliver fantastic results".
"Ultimately, the aim of this research is much greater than just achieving improved protein absorption in animals from plant-based alternative raw materials: it’s in fact about achieving better nitrogen efficiency and a lower carbon footprint." We nod enthusiastically when Wiebe says: "Isn't it nice to be able to contribute to making the animal feed sector more sustainable through research? This means with our partners, we’re working towards the goal of enhancing the value of all residual waste and side-flows in the Dutch feed sector, fully and efficiently, by 2050."