Data key for animal protein’s Net Zero​ journey

The Dutch multinational recently launched a platform designed to reduce livestock emissions through feed, which it says helps improve poultry, swine, and ruminant operations.

Speaking at FoodNavigator’s recent Climate Smart Food event, Dr David Nickell David Nickell, VP of Sustainability, Animal Nutrition and Health at DSM, said the drive for sustainable animal protein requires accurate footprint measurement.

Data, he explained, is the key to unlocking market opportunities as the animal protein industry looks to transform itself to more sustainable practices. 

Nutrition is at the forefront of the shift, he said. About 50-60% of production costs of animal protein is related to feed, while up to 80% of the environmental footprint of animal production is related to nutrition – based on the crops that go into the feed, how this utilised by the animal and the resulting manure. “This requires accurate and credible measurement. If we are to meet emission reduction plans,”​ he stressed.

The footprint of animal protein meanwhile has many dimensions, from carbon emissions, phosphorus and nitrogen, water and land use. Reducing the footprint of animal production is therefore challenging and complex. “Farming is highly nuanced and it has a huge variety and levels of impact,”​ Nickell noted.

Accurate and credible data is needed as investors and governments push for sustainability value across the value chain. Also accelerating it are consumers. A growing number of consumers have a willingness to pay for sustainable foods, with retailers and CPG companies actively addressing this demand. This is giving rise to eco-labels based on full LCA footprint to help consumers make informed choices. 

All this heightens the need to “getting down to the data and understanding what’s going on”,​ said Nickell. “Understanding your footprint makes good business sense.”

But you can’t improve what you don’t measure. Relevant LCS metric systems are critical to measuring and knowing how to reduce footprints in animal production, he explained. “That requires system understand. You have to understand the relationship between multiple components such as land use change, fertiliser use, farming practices, feed utilisation and more.”

The calculations also have to adhere to internationally recognised methodology calculations and LCA standards. This information is however becoming less complex, according to Nickell, helping turn those metrics into understandable insights that can be operationalised in the farming process. “It’s a really important breakthrough that we’re starting to see develop,”​ he explained.

What about costs and expertise?

How big a roadblock are investment costs for the implementation of this type of technology, however? “What we’ve found speaking to producers of animal protein across the world is simply people are not entirely sure what their footprint is. But understanding what your baseline is doesn’t cost you a lot of money. The data is there, it just may be a bit disaggregated. Once you have that information you can then understand what improvement you need to make at what cost. The nice thing about the latest technology we have is that you can run ‘what if’ scenarios before you spend any money so you can really understand the impact any changes. The beauty of the advancement in the use of more of the primary data and the type of platforms that allow you to do this at scale is that you can really get on top of your numbers before you’ve even spent any money.”

Increasingly, users can also be in control of more widely accessible data, he said, meaning it is now easier for businesses to understand and make use of the data available to them. DSM’s latest developments, he insisted, allow you to keep up with any changes you are making and be on top of your numbers and enables users to scale. “Once you get the results and modelling done you don’t need to be an expert.. as long as you have access to the data, the data fields are very intuitive: you know which data you need to get you can very much and be in control of this aspect of sustainability.”​ 

‘Data is key for sustainable food systems — for credibility and value creation’

Relevant LCA metric systems are critical to measure and know how to reduce footprints in animal production, he elaborated.

“There’s tremendous amounts of innovation out there which has made huge double-digit reductions in the footprint of animal production… But you need to have a basket of options because very farm every species is highly nuanced. ​

“At the end of the day, whatever the system, you still need to be able to measure that and we’re enabling customers to really get on top of their footprint. If they can do that, they really do have the ability to direct their resources and see where the hotspots are and where to make improvements whether that’s nutritional or through to infrastructural changes or other technologies on the farm.” ​ 

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