Feed System Insights: Circular Feeding Systems

In early 2022, the Institute for Feed Education and Research (IFEEDER) partnered with WWF to convene feed industry leaders for a Feed Systems Sustainability Summit to advance a vision for feed sustainability, catalyze action on critical impacts and elevate learnings and best practices. This year (2023), IFEEDER set forth its priorities and objectives in the feed industry Sustainability Road Map and began bridging from research to implementation by launching the Animal Food Industry Sustainability Toolkit to support industry development of sustainability programs… This paper is relevant, timely and extremely useful as it demonstrates the need for investments into an enabling environment that strengthens the ability to take clear actions around the four solutions.

4 Solutions to Meet the Need for Feed

Sustainable feed enables livestock systems to deliver on their role in achieving climate ambitions and goals.

  • Responsible Sourcing can halt land conversion in supply chains, thereby protecting valuable carbon stores in critical ecosystems and normalize the integration of environmental impact evaluation into feed formulation decision making.
  • Regenerative Agriculture interventions lead to multiple environmental benefits (e.g., interventions lead to multiple environmental benefits (e.g., biodiversity, water use, soil health and support local producers and communities. They are key in both carbon sequestration and emissions mitigation because of the linkage to cropping system’s nutrient needs (e.g., carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus, water).
  • Circular Ingredients reduce pressure on both landfills and land for crop production by utilizing already available “niche”, novel, and alternative ingredients with important nutritional and/or functional health attributes. Leadership and action are needed to further quantify the impact and scale of available ingredients in an economically feasible way while maintaining quality and safety standards.
  • Feeding Innovations reduce the footprint of animal production through improved efficiency and health, and/or by lowering emissions from manure and enteric fermentation. Innovation is needed in ration formulation, ingredient development, equipment, and manufacturing and even business models that provide unique incentives for changing practices.

Circular Feeding Systems

Circular ingredients are characterized by increased use of crop residuals, by- and co-products of the feed/food industries, as well as significant quantities of available human food waste streams, providing sustainable alternative ingredients in a closed system. Circularity implies recycling or upcycling feed/food nutrients or energy and may be further enhanced or integrated into feeds through processing, acknowledging constraints/evaluation as safe, nutritionally relevant, and economically viable ingredients. When optimized, these systems support balance of ingredients within rations, avoid methane emissions from landfills, contribute to reduced demand for commodity crops and can reduce the risk of land conversion for feedstuff production. By-products, co-products and non-commodity ingredients represent nearly 30% of global feed intake. Livestock (particularly poultry and swine) raised on various non-grain alternative feeds can decrease feed food competition and free up about one quarter of global arable land. In the US, roughly 10% of surplus food (6.9 M metric tons) is already sent to animal feed, with about half (3.4 M metric tons) coming from the manufacturing sector and 1.6 M metric tons from grocery retail.

While animal feed is a leading option for some of these sectors, approximately 13.3 M metric tons of food surplus ends in landfill, contributing to nearly 20% of total US methane emissions coming from waste management. Total food waste generation estimates in the US are much higher (over 25 M metric tons annually), but only about half (13.3 M metric tons) are estimated as effectively viable for waste-to-feed pathways with current technologies and practices.

Other protein feed ingredients for livestock that contribute minimally to land conversion or GHG emissions include insects, algae, single-cell proteins, bacteria, and yeast-derived proteins. Each of these has use not only as dietary ingredients; enhanced nutritional and health benefits can also be derived through fermentation technologies, and waste streams can be further utilized as fertilizers.

Supporting standardized and updated policy recommendations that encourage broader utilization of food scraps (excesses or residuals) as animal feed reinforces a growing interest from the private sector in more circular feeding solutions. When implemented in accordance with federal laws and handling protocols, safe and nutritious ingredients can be provided that encompass all the environmental benefits of landfill diversion as well as contribute to enhanced ingredient options. Incentives for incorporation of potential waste streams into feed should be prioritized and logistics streamlined; guidance should provide clear pathways for implementation and remove unnecessary restrictions.

This entire article is an excerpt from a report by WWF in partnership with iFeeder. Additional resources, including references, can be found in the complete report at worldwildlife.org.