Circular Feed

The European feed industry takes great pride in its knowledge, understanding and technical capacity that it has built up over many years in how to recover nutrients from other (industrial) processes in the food and biofuel chain, which are non-human edible. This is the fundamental contribution of our  sector by raising food-producing animals as part of a circular food system, thus keeping nutrients in the food systems which would otherwise be lost.

In June 2022 FEFAC released its new publication on “Circular Feed – Optimised Nutrient Recovery Through Animal Nutrition”. It showcases the European feed industry’s practical interpretation and illustration of the circular feed concept, providing current day-to-day examples of how the sector contributes to recovering nutrients from the circular economy. FEFAC invites regulators to proceed with a systematic review of legislative bottlenecks in the EU regulatory framework which currently restrict a higher level of circularity in EU food systems through innovative animal nutrition solutions.

Historically, domestic farm animals were reared with what humans did not eat, either grass or residues from food processing activities. In fact, the very origin of the European feed industry stems from the recovery in a professional way, of wheat bran from flour millers, for which there was no human food market. This ‘historic’ role in the bio-economy gives our sector a key responsibility in driving sustainable food systems by continuing to innovate in the upcycling of nutrients through feed for food-producing animals.

With five concrete ambitions in its Feed Sustainability Charter 2030 released in September 2020, FEFAC committed to further drive sustainable feed production. The second ambition of the Charter is to Foster Sustainable Food Systems Through Increased Resource & Nutrient Efficiency, which initiated a journey through the concepts of human inedible feed, non-food grade feed ingredients and now ‘circular feed’ as the next level. This brings us back to our origins, as driving circularity in food systems is our license to produce. 

The concept of circular feed, as presented in this publication provides the ‘state of the art’ perspective describing the strength of nutrient recovery through animal nutrition. In addition, we believe that the circular feed concept can co-exist with the feed conversion ratio, which is a more traditional resource efficiency indicator that considers ‘only’ the ‘input-output’ efficiency from a kg feed into a kg animal product. The circular feed approach takes into account how the feed ingredient originated and to what degree it may compete with direct food production. It could be argued that the feed conversion ratio is an indicator that is more appropriate to describe the resource efficiency of poultry and aquaculture systems, while porcine and ruminant systems have more capacity to absorb ‘low grade – non-human edible’ nutrients emerging from the circular economy. This is the benefit of our highly diverse EU livestock farming systems and species that each of them makes its contribution to optimised resources use, while making the best use of locally and globally available nutrient sources.

Co-products used in feed are in general considered human inedible feed, due to the high amount of fibres, anti-nutrients or other characteristics that make the feed of “non-food” grade quality. This means these feed resources are not in direct competition with food consumption, while at the same time making a significant contribution to food security. The FAO has estimated that at global level 86% of livestock feed is not suitable for human consumption. FEFAC further explored the concept of the share of human inedible feed in animal feed production at European compound feed production level, as a key feed sector sustainability criteria. In the 1st FEFAC Feed Sustainability Charter Progress Report released in June 2021, FEFAC estimated that 96% of the feed used by compound feed manufacturers is not of “food grade” quality.

FEFAC takes pride in the inherent sustainability of the compound feed and premix industry as resource efficiency champions of the food chain. However, it stresses that environmental benefits derived from converting co-products into high value animal feed, can never be obtained at the expense of feed safety. FEFAC members and their suppliers apply strict and robust HACCP-based risk management systems in their respective auto-control programmes, based on the EU feed hygiene regulation and specific feed sector guidelines, developed and assessed against the requirements of EU feed hygiene regulations and in line with other relevant EU feed safety legislation. FEFAC therefore looks forward in being closely involved in the EFSA project aimed at assessing “Food and feed safety vulnerabilities in a circular economy”.