Nutrition efficiency

Improving nutrient efficiency is a key objective of the Farm to Fork strategy and is emblematic of the aspiration for a circular economy. Nobody is better placed than the feed and livestock sector to close the circle of the “One Nutrition” concept by linking human, animal, plant and microbial populations.

The key elementary nutrients for any living organism are Carbon, Hydrogen, Nitrogen, Oxygen, Phosphorus and Sulfur (CHNOPS). In terms of plant and animal nutrition, additional strategic nutrients are potassium and calcium. Nitrogen and phosphorus are of particular importance for the debate on sustainable management of nutrients and also the environmental impacts of any nutrient losses and wastage. Improvement of nutrient efficiency and reduction of losses is at the heart of the EU Farm to Fork Strategy.

A major objective of animal nutritionists has been to look at nutrient efficiency for optimal growth, development and maintenance. Scientific research on optimized nutrient balance in animal diets and the ability to supplement the diet with feed additives (e.g. amino acids, phytase) or mineral feed materials has resulted in significant improvements of this ratio, making the European feed and livestock industry a global leader in nutrient efficiency. Further substantial improvements of this ratio are expected with the uptake of digitalization and sensor technology at all levels of the agri-food chain, supporting the development and implementation of precision feeding systems providing the optimum nutrient balance to food producing farm animals during all physiological stages and farming practices, whilst maintaining animal welfare and health. 

However, this linear approach of nutrient efficiency is no longer sufficient on its own to evaluate the sustainability performance of a food production system in a circular way and new dynamics can be created as many crop and livestock production parameters are interdependent. Microbes, whether microbiota in soil and animals gut or as pathways to recover nutrients and generate biomass are critical elements of the equation to optimise nutrients use. This is the concept of “One Nutrition” that FEFAC wants to promote, similar to the concept of “One Health” rightfully and successfully implemented in recent years. 

This concept also involves the integration of the notion of biological value of the carrier of the nutrient for the target organism. This is an essential element for optimization of resources: the biological value of grass for human beings or monogastrics is poor but it is very high for ruminants; the biological value of animal proteins is generally higher for consumers than vegetable proteins.  The picture is complex but failing to think in a circular and holistic manner on nutrition is likely to drive the process of switching to sustainable food systems in the wrong direction.

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