Science-Based, Practical Approach To Tackling Sustainability Will Help Livestock Sector Deliver Results

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Service | 25.04.2024
Feedinfo Industry Perspectives - 23.04.24

Sustainability is a hot topic, and while everyone seems to be talking about it, it is being tackled in diverse and sometimes unclear, uncontrolled ways.

For the livestock sector, which is increasingly under scrutiny, taking action in a way which is clear and delivers direct, measurable results is critical. 

In our Industry Perspectives today, we talk to Stefaan Bekaert, Global Sustainability Manager for animal health and nutrition firm Huvepharma about the company's plans, goals and actions at a company, product, and sector level. 

Huvepharma has already invested in solar energy, aiming to be self-sufficient by 2030, the same date as it is working to become carbon neutral. Embracing life cycle assessments (LCAs), a reduction in carbon footprint and supporting its customers on their challenging sustainability journeys are all part of its science-based and clear approach, he explains.


[Feedinfo] Sustainability is very much a buzzword right now, but it means so many different things to different people; it can often seem very confusing and somewhat like 'greenwash' at times. What is your opinion of the current global view of this, and what does sustainability mean to you as a business in the livestock sector?

[Stefaan Bekaert] Sustainability is indeed a buzzword, and everybody seems to be working on it.

Sustainability is a balance between economical profitability, social responsibility, and respect for the environment. In 2015, the United Nations defined 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs) which serve as a guideline for countries and companies all around the world. These SDGs are often referred to by companies in their sustainability communications but the level of impact and their relevance for the business and region varies.

To prevent greenwashing, some organisations are creating alternative measures. The science-based targets initiative (SBTi) or the carbon disclosure project (CDP) are examples of organisations that independently validate and control targets and processes. The EU parliament is in the process of adopting the proposed Directive on Green Claims, a new set of rules stating that companies must prove, verify, and substantiate environmental claims. The new rules will help eliminate greenwashing by ensuring companies have evidence to support the environmental claims they make. Other countries have or are creating similar initiatives. 

We as an animal health company are shaping livestock solutions to ensure safe, affordable, and sustainable food. Our vision of the importance of supplying safe food for today's global population while protecting the environment is what guides our actions. By creating closer relationships among all our stakeholders that are mutually beneficial, balanced, and built on trust, we want to help our customers to maximise the health and welfare of their animals. We are committed to managing our impact on the world's sustainable development. We report our actions via the Global Reporting Initiative and Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures. We demonstrate our commitment as transparently as possible with internal and external stakeholders.

The livestock sector currently emits an estimated 12% of all human-induced greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. There is clear pressure for the livestock sector to reduce its environmental impact. At Huvepharma, we are confident that improving feed efficiencies and improving animal health in combination with using the correct management interventions can help the industry to achieve these challenges. 


[Feedinfo] Huvepharma has developed a very clear view of where it wants to be in terms of sustainability. You have previously talked about some of your initiatives, so can you update us on what you are doing and the progress you have made?

[Stefaan Bekaert] At Huvepharma, we continue to use our foundation in science to focus on developing and providing products and services that best suit our customers' business needs. This includes helping our customers to meet their sustainability goals as well as reaching our own ambitious sustainability targets.

We are extending some of our products to other livestock segments. For example, we are offering our enzyme portfolio (OptiPhos®, OptiPhos® Plus and Hostazym® X) to the aquaculture market, allowing fish and shrimp producers to better utilise existing and new raw materials in their feed. For example, adding OptiPhos to fish diets can reduce the need for inorganic P supplementation. Besides this, Hostazym X can increase nutrient assimilation from plant-based sources in the feed. This can offer a saving of up to €15/tonne, a win economically and for environmental sustainability.

For aquaculture we also offer a sustainable vegan source of omega-3 produced from microalgae. These essential fatty acids produced by Huvepharma serve as a sustainable source of DHA without interfering with the natural ecology of oceans, providing alternatives to overfishing and minimising the impact on wild fish stocks.

For monogastrics we launched Huvezym® neXo, recently registered in the EU, an enzymatic complex containing three different key enzyme activities (xylanase, xyloglucanase and betaglucanase) for optimised fibre degradation. It efficiently improves the digestibility of a broad range of feed raw materials, especially when complex fibre ingredients are used in animal diets. We expect customers to use Huvezym neXo as a nutritional tool to safely optimise feed formulations while using alternative raw materials or using higher amounts of an otherwise capped raw material, without compromising animal performance. We are also confident that this will have a positive impact on the sustainability of livestock production while remaining in balance with the economic aspect.

For cattle we have launched our Hostazym (xylanase) range to improve fibre digestibility. First trials demonstrate a 10% improved energy efficiency and more milk produced per kg dry matter intake (DMI). These improvements could result in a 5% reduction of methane per kg of energy corrected milk and up to a 20% reduction in rumen NH3. We are doing further trials to give us better insights into how enzymes can help improve ruminant feed formulation for more sustainable production - a nice example of how economic efficiency and more sustainable production can go together.


[Feedinfo] Life cycle assessments (LCAs) are something people are starting to talk about in much more depth in the livestock sector. Could you talk us through what this means for you as a business? And for your customers, what does it mean in practical terms?

[Stefaan Bekaert] A life cycle assessment (LCA) is a systematic technique for evaluating the environmental impacts of a product or service throughout its entire life cycle. This means from raw material to its end-of-life disposal. It is much wider than just the carbon footprint of a product or service, and covers other factors such as eutrophication, water usage, and land use change. An LCA can provide insights on the environmental impacts of different steps of a production process. 

Huvepharma is vertically integrated, meaning we have complete control over our production processes. Our LCAs help us to find hotspots in the production chain and identify fields of improvement. The LCAs also give an indication of the impact of any changes, helping us prioritise improvements. The International Organisation for Standardisation provides guidelines and requirements for conducting an LCA such as product environmental footprint category rules (PEFCR). 

With our continued investments in renewable energy, we have chosen a pathway to decarbonise our production facilities. To generate electricity, we already operate a solar plant with a capacity of 75MW which accounts for about 25% of our total electricity consumption. Our biomass incineration plant helps us recuperate energy, which is then fed back into our production process, allowing us to produce around 40% of our steam consumption. 

We continue to increase the capacity of our solar plant - the plan is to expand to 300MW by 2030. We will also start constructing a geothermal power plant this year. These efforts, combined with other renewable energy sources, will see our sustainable energy output increase year on year, keeping us on track to meet our goal of being fully carbon neutral by 2030. 

By following ISO standards and PEFCR, we ensure qualitative and reliable LCA data for our products. We already have full LCAs for 21 of our products ranging from enzymes, coccidiostats and probiotics to our veterinary products. With ongoing investments in green and more sustainable production methods, the environmental impact of our products is continuously improving. 

As Huvepharma, we take the lead in providing the livestock industry with full LCAs for the products we produce. We have another 15 product LCAs to be finalised by the middle of this year to complete our product range.

Our water-soluble powder (WSP) enzymes are also a good example of how considering the whole life cycle of the product, we can reduce environmental impact on our customer's side. Preparing the liquid enzyme directly in the feed mill avoids shipment of bulky IBC containers. This results in a five-fold lower carbon footprint compared to traditional liquid enzymes, mainly due to reduced packing material and transport volume. Next to this environmental benefit, the WSP enzyme also offers the customer technical benefits like better enzyme stability, more dosing flexibility, and less handling in the factory.

The livestock industry can also use LCAs in a similar way for detecting hotspots and evaluating changes in production processes. Various scientific studies have shown that for poultry and pig production, feed is the biggest contributor to GHGs. In ruminants, it is enteric methane production where the biggest improvements can be made. 


[Feedinfo] Many livestock producers are being asked by their customers to address sustainability, and as feed is such a major input, it comes under very close scrutiny. How are you helping your customers to navigate this, particularly in relation to feed formulation and the carbon footprint of feed?

[Stefaan Bekaert] The final carbon footprint of feed is the sum of all the components used in it. By supplying the LCA of our products, our customers can directly use this in their calculations.

As well as having a direct contribution as feed ingredients, the indirect effects via improvements in feed efficiency or increasing the value of alternative raw materials are much higher. 

Enzymes such as phytase not only make more phosphorus available to the animal from the diet, but the higher levels that are nowadays widely adopted also maximise amino acid and energy utilisation. In this way, they also improve the environmental impact by reducing CO2 emissions and N20 and phosphorus excretion into the environment.

For example, maximising phytase use combined with xylanase and other enzymes leads to significant cost savings and, depending on the situation, can also reduce the carbon footprint by up to 9%. 

Adding our non-starch polysaccharide degrading enzymes - Hostazym X, Huvezym neXo - helps nutritionists to utilise new raw materials that reduce the feed's environmental impact. 

We recently gained new insights and knowledge about alternative protein and energy sources, how they can be used in poultry diets and their effect on production. Overall, good feed digestibility not only leads to economic benefits and improvements in animal health but also reduces the environmental impact.

It is also important to stress that animal health should not be forgotten. For example, in broiler production, analyses based upon field data out of Aviapp - our digital health and performance monitoring system for broilers, layers and turkeys - demonstrates that good coccidiosis control can save up to three or more points in feed efficiency. Keeping this disease under control offers clear economic benefits and contributes to more sustainable production. 

For fattening pigs, it is estimated in the literature that impaired health increases CO2 emissions by 5.9% at pig system level. Our data shows that adding Hostazym X to fattening pig diets results in a 2% lower mortality which gives a clear economic benefit and contributes to more sustainable production. 


[Feedinfo] To go back to our starting point, sustainability as a concept seems to be ever-changing. As a business which is deeply involved in the livestock sector, where do you see future challenges and opportunities in relation to sustainability, and what can we expect to see from Huvepharma to help with this?

[Stefaan Bekaert] While various targets and timelines are set on a policy level, in the field it still feels like an ever-changing field with very different requirements globally. 

In general, greenhouse gas emissions remain the biggest area of interest for the livestock industry. But in some areas, for example Europe, we are starting to see trade-offs being considered like nitrogen, phosphorus leaching, land use change and the circular economy. 

To overcome all these challenges and requests, a lot of investment and effort is going into the livestock production process. The global variation in legislation creates some uncertainty in investments and economic returns. Livestock is also a global industry, so these global differences pose uncertainties for producers.

As a science-based company, we try to participate in round table discussions and working groups around the globe to share and promote science-based information for policy makers and other partners in the supply chain. 

The livestock sector is a pillar of the global food system and a contributor to poverty reduction, food security and agricultural development. With predictions that the global population will be close to 10 billion by 2050, food quantity will have to double to meet demand, and much of that will continue to come from animal protein. Increasing the efficiency of livestock supply chains is key to keep feeding the world while limiting the growth of GHG emissions in the future.

As a business we truly believe that sustainability is all about being economically profitable, together with respecting the environment and social responsibilities. Establishing direct and strong relationships with our customers is key to our success. We are always seeking to provide products and services that best suit our customers' needs.

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