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Does Palm Oil Have a Place in Sustainable Animal Production

Posted: Mar 21, 2024 4 minute read Pablo Arranz

In the complex calculus of sustainable animal production, animal feed is a key link in the value chain for producers looking to improve animal health, productivity, and ecological outcomes. The livestock sector emits an estimated 7.1 gigatonnes of CO2 equivalent per year, around 14.5% of all greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions caused by human activity. By enhancing the efficiency of livestock supply chains, including how these animals are fed, we can address some factors that will help limit the industry’s GHG emissions and realise more sustainable agricultural production.

As the demand for sustainable, responsibly-produced livestock increases, driven by calls from producers and consumers of livestock products, as well as regulators concerned with sustainability and food safety in the agri-food industry, addressing the role of feed ingredients is an important consideration. Plant-based ingredients have an essential role to play in this transition.

Animal health a building block for sustainability

It’s widely accepted that healthy animals are more productive and live better lives. But livestock health delivers benefits beyond just productivity, including better feed conversion, lower incidence of disease and less time and investment needed for medical treatments. This efficiency has a knock-on effect on emissions.

Around a decade ago, the FAO posited that adopting a range of best practices in animal health and husbandry could reduce emissions from livestock by around 30 per cent.  Improving animal health reduces the number of unproductive animals, increases efficiency, and ensures that more healthy animals reach their potential productivity. In field trials, researchers in Scotland found better disease management in cows could create emission savings of 4.5%, marking a significant reduction in GHGs for one of the country’s highest-emitting industries.

Feed is essential in improving efficiency and delivering these functional benefits for livestock.

The role of feed

Plant-based ingredients, such as those derived from palm oil, provide a host of benefits that can improve animal health and promote efficient food systems.

Fats are a valuable energy source for animals with high energy demands, such as lactating ruminants or fast-growing animals. In addition to energy, they provide essential fatty acids that help promote the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins and are a source of bioactive fatty acids.

Palmitic acid, a long-chain saturated fatty acid naturally present in ruminants’ milk and meat, is one ingredient that can contribute to improving yield. These free fatty acids are more digestible to ruminants than commonly used triglycerides, ensuring more efficient nutrient delivery and feed efficiency. Sourced from sustainably-produced palm oil, products like GoNutri Energy can increase milk fat production by approximately 5-8 percent.

For swine and poultry, GoNutri Protect contains medium-chain free fatty acids and monoglycerides that can strengthen the integrity of the intestinal membrane and have proven effective in controlling digestive pathogens. Also included are lauric acid and alpha monolaurin and their combinations, which have shown a remarkable ability to control infections and improve intestinal health, impacting poultry and swine.

Sustainable outputs require sustainable inputs

While functional ingredients are essential in improving efficiency and productivity, producers need to consider sustainability across the total lifecycle of animal production. This includes knowing where and how ingredients are sourced and grown.

There are considerable and valid concerns about the role of feed in greenhouse gas emissions, water pollution and deforestation. Feed production has been cited as the most significant contributor to environmental and economic impacts associated with livestock production systems.

Responsibly produced palm oil can help to address these concerns.

Palm is one of the most efficient oil crops in the world, producing 3.5 tonnes of oil per hectare. Alternatives such as rapeseed, sunflower or soybean oil require at least four times as much land to generate the same amount of oil.

Meanwhile, deforestation rates in Indonesia linked to palm oil have declined continuously for a decade at the same time as palm production has increased. At GAR, 98.5 per cent of our palm oil production in Indonesia is traceable to the plantation, and our supply chain is expected to uphold the high sustainability standards set out in GAR’s Social and Environmental Policy (GSEP).

Looking to the future

Sustainable livestock systems contribute to food security and are vital for achieving optimal animal health and performance.

At GAR and GoNutri, we’re committed to advancing alongside our partners and customers to meet these demands. With an increased focus on animal welfare, in line with the EU’s Farm to Fork strategy, and growing momentum to measure and disclose carbon emissions down to the product level, the sector has clear areas to progress. We believe sustainable, responsibly sourced ingredients have a crucial role to play in helping these advances in the animal agriculture sector.

Originally written by Pablo Arranz for Feed & Additive. This article has been republished here with permission.


About the author:

Pablo Arranz is Golden Agri-Resources’ Quality and Sustainability Manager in Iberia, working extensively across the company’s GoNutri portfolio of animal feed ingredients. His experience includes more than six years in technical food and feed safety roles at Bureau Veritas. Pablo holds an MA in Food Quality Management from the Universidad Politécnica de Madrid.

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