Europe struggles to replace soybean meal imports

Sustainable replacement of South American soybean meal by European protein proves difficult.

Replacement of soybean meal of South American origin in a starter pig diet by European protein sources currently in most cases does not decrease the carbon footprint (CFP). Innovations are required to reduce the CFP of European proteins. This is concluded by a sustainability analysis performed by Wageningen UR Livestock Research, in cooperation with Natuur & Milieu (a Dutch non-governmental organization), the Dutch feed industry (Nevedi) and the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs.

Imported soybean meal from South America currently is one of the most important protein sources in animal feed. There is an increasing demand for protein sources of European origin, according to an announcement from Wageningen University. The sustainability of the alternative protein sources, compared to the current situation based on imported soybean meal, is an important question for the feed industry. To investigate this, a study was performed to determine the sustainability of a number of European protein sources.

European protein analyzed

For this study, the following ingredients are selected: soybean meal cultivated in The Netherlands and in Ukraine, sunflower seed meal, poultry meat meal, dried distillers grains with solubles (DDGS), meal worms, algae protein and single cell proteins.

Based on data received from literature and from the FeedPrint software, the nutritional value and CFP of the ingredients is determined. The ingredients are involved in the feed optimization of a starter pig diet, thereby maintaining the nutritional values of the diet.

Subsequently, the CFP of the starter diet was calculated, with and without the contribution of "land use and land use change" (LULUC). The CFP of the starter diet containing South American soybean meal was considered as the reference value. The different scenarios were calculated according to the principles of the called "attributional LCA" approach, which does not take the displacement effects into account. Additionally, three scenarios are worked out according to the principles of a "consequential LCA," in which displacement effects are considered.


The most important conclusions — based on the attributional LCA approach — are:

* Only two options out of the series of investigated European protein sources are able to replace soybean meal from South America in a starter pig diet without increasing the CFP of the diet.

* Replacement of 12% soybean meal from South America with 12% soybean meal from the Netherlands or from Ukraine slightly decreased CFP from 595 to 580 and 592 g of carbon dioxide equivalents per kilogram of compound feed, respectively. This decrease is mainly caused by a decrease in transportation distance.

* Replacement of 12% South American soybean meal by 2.5% poultry meat (bone) meal slightly decreased CFP from 595 to 591 of carbon dioxide equivalents per kilogram of compound feed. An important reason for the low replacement percentage is the high phosphorus content of meat (bone) meal; these calculations, however, are based on outdated nutritional values and available phosphorus contents of the animal products, and it is recommended to update these values.

* All other scenarios result in an increase of the CFP of the diet.

Future scenarios

Innovations are required to reduce the CFP of European proteins. From a nutritional point of view, numerous conventional and alternative proteins are perspective for application in animal feed (Van Krimpen et al., 2013). Moreover, aquatic proteins, e.g., seaweed and algae, lay a limited claim on consisting farmland, and therefore, the development of these cultivations can contribute to the increase of the European protein production. Insects are able to convert low-value protein into higher-value protein and, therefore, can have a valuable contribution to the European protein supply. The conversion of low-valuable proteins to insect protein, however, means an additional link in the food chain. This means the occurrence of inevitable losses, thereby increasing the CFP.

For further reducing the carbon footprint of EU protein sources, it is required that these crops will be produced more efficiently. Therefore, more attention should be given to breeding and improving of management conditions, resulting in a higher yield per hectare. The development of more efficient drying techniques is required, resulting in reduction of the CFP of products that originates from wet processes (e.g., DDGS and aquatic proteins).

The full results of this sustainability analysis is described in the final report.

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