Full chain life cycle assessment

The carbon footprint of raw materials and feeds can be relatively easy calculated by using validated and widely accepted PEFCR (Product Environmental Footprint Category Rules) Feed data and GFLI (Global Feed Life Cycle Assessment Institute) methodology.

“However, the carbon footprint of feed is only part of the story when it comes to ecological sustainability in the entire animal production chain”, says Marco de Mik, consultant at Schothorst Feed Research: “We also need to consider other aspects, like biodiversity, fresh water use, land use, et cetera. Furthermore, the ecological footprint of a piece of meat depends not only on the feed composition, but also on the management on the farm and in the slaughterhouse.”

Full chain analysis
“From PEFCR Feed and GFLI we know that feed composition largely determine the carbon footprint of the feed. But that is not the whole story, we also need to consider the next parts of the food chain”, De Mik explains: “Animal management on farm plays a crucial role: Producing more meat, milk or eggs with less feed by increasing the feed efficiency is always a good idea, for economic and ecological reasons, but other factors are also important.” De Mik refers manure management, animal health status on the farm, rearing conditions, number of calves and heifers kept on a dairy farm, slaughter weight of pigs, longevity of sows and number of piglets raised per sow per year. “To determine the ecological footprint of the full chain of meat, milk or eggs production, we need to consider not only the feed, but also the farm and the slaughter house”.

The Opteinics software, developed by BASF, offers the possibility to determine the ecological footprint from feed production up to the carcasses delivered by the slaughter house.

“It is a useful tool to analyze data from the feed producer, the livestock farmer and the slaughter house. And this may lead to surprising conclusions”, De Mik has seen.

He used the Opteinics software to calculate the greenhouse gas emissions per 1000 kg pig carcass weight for a slaughter weight of 100 kg vs a slaughter weight of 130 kg: “The higher slaughter weight resulted in a higher feed intake and lower feed efficiency, as expected. But by keeping finisher pigs on the farm to a higher liveweight, you need fewer pigs to obtain 1000 kg of carcass. Therefore, the carbon footprint per 1000 kg of carcass, considering the full chain (feed -> farm -> slaughter) is lower with a higher slaughter weight.”

Feed efficiency
Marco de Mik also points out that ‘feed efficiency’ is a somewhat confusing parameter: “We need a new perspective, because just looking at kg of meat or milk or eggs produced per kg of feed is not sufficient. Beef cattle is often ‘accused’ of having a low feed efficiency, but when we look at the amount of human edible feed or protein or energy that beef cattle requires to produce a kg of human edible food or protein or energy, the picture is completely different: Ruminants can be largely fed with feedstuffs that humans won’t or can’t eat, so the ‘human edible protein or energy conversion’ is actually much better for beef cattle than for laying hens, broilers, turkeys or pigs”, De Mik shows. “We need to look at feed efficiency from a nutritional and environmental perspective”, De Mik concludes.

In the near future, a full LCA to determine the ecological impact of the entire animal production chain, will be required to maintain the license to produce for the livestock sector, De Mik expects. Not only carbon footprints, but also other ecological parameters and animal welfare are in the centre of public debate around livestock farming. It is a challenge to tackle the demands ahead. “We need to optimize the entire chain, not just the feed. For that, we need reliable and standardized data and methods for all sustainability aspects of the food chain”, says De Mik.

“At Schothorst Feed Research, we are anticipating these developments. We use the Opteinics tool to collect ecological data from our own experimental farm and we support our customers with knowledge and expertise on life cycle assessments. As soon as policy makers, ngo’s, retailers or other stakeholders demand LCA data from the animal production chain, we are ready to deliver.”

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