“Grazing cattle are net producers of human edible proteins”


o Katrien D’hooghe, CEO of the BFA, it was necessary to question the Belgian situation in the race for proteins between humans and animals. “With the food strategies and compositions used in Belgium, do we get more or less clear-cut edible proteins for humans after conversion by a cow, a pig or a chicken? We believe it is essential to work towards even better returns in this area, so that animals are given less potentially human food. This is part of the strategy to further reduce the impact of the agricultural sector on the environment and the food chain. “

Leen Vandaele, researcher at ILVO: “The study shows that cattle, which essentially appreciate forage, are net producers of edible protein for humans. They produce more edible protein in the form of milk or meat than they consume. For pigs and laying hens, the figure is close to break even: they consume as much human edible protein as pork or eggs provide. Broilers currently appear to consume more human edible protein than they return, mainly because their diet contains a lot of grains. “

The BFA will work on the results of this study for years to come. By 2030, the sector wants half of its food to be circular co-products no longer fit for human consumption, up from 43% today. The industry also wants to use more protein sources that are not consumed by humans, such as peas, lupins and insect meal.

A French methodological basis

Several research groups in the UK, Austria and France have already worked on a methodology to scientifically evaluate the competition for plant proteins between animals and humans.

Carolien De Cuyper, feed and animal expert at Ilvo: “In our profession, calculating the efficiency of crude proteins is well known. Here we ask ourselves the following question: How much protein are produced by animals relative to the amount of protein they consume? However, farm animals can have both vegetable proteins that they can only digest, and vegetable proteins that can also be found in human foods (either directly or after processing) in their rations. Calculating the efficiency of edible proteins is an innovative approach that accurately calculates the competition between animals and humans for edible proteins. “

As part of this study, Ilvo determined the quantities of edible protein used by animals for the most common animal production systems in Belgium (pigs, laying hens, broilers, dairy cattle and beef cattle). (based on the composition of the food) and the quantities of edible proteins they produce (their total production in the form of milk, eggs and meat). Regarding the intakes, the researchers worked on the basis of the composition of the food. To determine the edible protein content of each of the different raw materials, they relied on a French study that previously listed the percentages of edible protein for humans by ingredient in animal feed.

“Therefore, for each production system, we were able to determine the ratio between the edible animal proteins produced by man and those consumed by animals and thus obtain the efficiency of the edible proteins for animal species and per system of Power supply.
chin, “explains Ms De Cuyper.

If the score is significantly less than 1, the animal is a net consumer of edible protein for humans. If it is greater than 1, the amount of edible human animal protein produced is greater than that used for edible plant protein. In this case, the animal contributes positively to the production of protein for human consumption. Research results show satisfactory efficacy of edible proteins

The efficiency of edible protein for the beef sector is well above 1. This means that the beef sector is a net producer of edible protein. In other words, cattle appreciate a lot of proteins that cannot be consumed by humans. The extensive zootechnical system achieves the best results in terms of edible protein efficiency for both beef and dairy cattle, thanks to the large percentage of roughage and especially grass in the animal rations.

Pigs and laying hens have an edible protein efficiency slightly below 1. These species are considered net consumers of edible protein.

“The logic is clear: if more raw materials with low edible protein content are used, the pig and poultry sector can also make a positive contribution to the production of edible proteins,” says Ilvo.

Qfour observations

– The study covers only one aspect of sustainability. There are many other important and influential parameters such as enteric emissions, land use, carbon sequestration, manure value… which need to be taken into account to draw a more complete picture of livestock sustainability;

– the final results of this study are a rough estimate, in the sense that the final nutritional quality of the imported and exported proteins has not been assessed. Nutritionists know, however, that plant and animal proteins are not entirely equivalent. Plant proteins have a limited amino acid profile for humans and sometimes contain antinutrients. Animal proteins (milk, eggs, meat) are more digestible and absorbable for humans and contain all essential amino acids;

– the edible protein content of wheat was considered in depth in this study. The French study assumes the grain is of bakery quality. However, the grain used to feed livestock does not meet this standard. Katrien D’hooghe: “So we added a nuance to the competitive nature of fodder wheat. It is the fodder grain that is used, and not the baker’s grain, in the food rations of Belgian cattle. The food industry considers fodder wheat unsuitable for human consumption. Nous avons demandé de calculer l’hypothèse suivante: Si vous deviez calculer le score d’efficacité des protéines comestibles avec la teneur en protéines comestibles du blé fourrager (c’est-à-dire un coefficient adapté à la Belgique), que se passerait -he ? It appears that the efficiency of edible proteins is therefore 1.36 for fattening pigs, 0.96 for broilers and 1.30 for laying hens. Pigs and poultry are therefore net producers of edible protein. This is less true for livestock, because cereals do not play an important role in livestock rations ”;

– “We made another calculation to include the ‘whey’ factor. In the beef rations we use a dairy by-product, a source of animal protein and an important feed material for animal feed, which was not on the list of vegetable protein feedstock in France (note: this by-product is called food grade whey powder and skimmed milk powder, which are not used for human consumption.) After this review, the edible protein efficiency of dairy cattle in corn-intensive rations, grass-intensive rations and extensive rations increases to 1.26, 1.81 and 3.59 respectively, and that of beef cattle to 1. , 72 and 1.09.

Maximize the use of co-products

For Katrien D’hooghe, this study confirms that the choice of raw materials and the increase in edible protein content strongly determine the edible protein yield of Belgian cattle. This reinforces our belief that we need to maximize the use of co-products from food production and biofuels. In this way, we maximize our efforts to implement a circular production system. After all, we cannot eat products such as beet pulp, beer grains, etc. ourselves. Currently, 43% of our raw materials are co-products of this type. By 2030, this figure is expected to be 50%. We also continue our search for alternative proteins, such as peas, beans and insects. Paying particular attention to avoiding competition between proteins intended for animal feed and proteins intended for human consumption. For the first time, we have a very clear picture! “

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