More efficiency in the trough

The UN estimates that global population is increasing by about 80 million each year. How will all these people be adequately fed, and how will the increasing demand for meat, for example, be satisfied in the future? Amino acids from Evonik Industries, used as animal feed additives, provide one solution: In addition to ensuring balanced nutrition, they protect the environment and save valuable resources.

In the year 2050 nine billion people will have to be fed, and it is estimated that 70 percent of these will live in cities. The middle class will continue to grow: The number of people with a disposable daily income between US$10 and US$100 is expected to increase from today's 1.8 billion to 4.9 billion in the year 2030. With prosperity and urbanization, food habits will change: Meat, fish, dairy products, and eggs will become staples on the menu.

The Food and Agriculture Organization also estimates that global meat consumption will rise to 373 million metric tons in the year 2030 and 465 million metric tons in 2050. Poultry consumption will register the strongest increase, from today’s 88 million metric tons to more than 140 million metric tons in 2030. The main reasons are that poultry is relatively inexpensive, and its consumption is not constrained by religious or cultural taboos.

More sustainability in agriculture

More meat means more livestock breeding and more animal feed— and therefore more arable land, higher consumption of energy and water, and correspondingly higher greenhouse gas emissions for cultivation and transport. Other consequences include increasingly fierce competition for agricultural land, which is also required for fruit and vegetable cultivation, as well as more liquid manure, resulting in higher environmental pollution due to overfertilization.

The long-term solution consists in sustainably reducing resource consumption in agriculture and simultaneously increasing productivity. One key to this lies in animal feeds and the protein building blocks they contain, known as amino acids. It is from these amino acids that all organisms build up their proteins, which serve a variety of purposes in the body: They help control vital physical processes and ward off infections; they are also major components of hair, skin, muscle, and connective tissue.

But the amino acids supplied in feeds must be present in the correct ratio; only then can the organism synthesize the required proteins in adequate quantities. Corn, wheat, and soy meal, used as feeds for poultry, pigs, and fish, have a serious shortcoming, however; they are lacking in the amino acids methionine, lysine, and threonine in particular. As a result, the animals need more food because they cannot utilize it optimally. Accordingly, they produce more manure, which contaminates groundwater with nitrate and the air with ammonia.

Animal feeds must therefore be formulated so as to contain all the protein building blocks in the correct ratio. This can be achieved in two ways: The shortage of amino acids can be compensated by a higher proportion of protein-rich feed components such as fish meal or oilseed meal; alternatively, the feed can be enriched with the missing amino acids, produced specifically for this purpose.

Amino acids from Evonik certified in life cycle assessments

Evonik has shown in life cycle assessments* that the second of these alternatives is the more sustainable. The specialty chemicals producer has taken into account here the entire life cycle, from the production of the feeds and amino acids to excretion of waste by the animals. "The results are unequivocal: If the amino acid DLmethionine from Evonik is added to the feed, emission of ammonia is reduced by a factor of 26, of nitrate by a factor of 7, and of greenhouse gases by a factor of 23. Moreover, energy consumption is reduced by more than 80 percent. The bottom line is that just three kilograms of the two amino acids methionine and lysine can replace 88 kilograms of fish meal and soy meal in feeds," says Dr. Michael Pack, head of the Methionine Business Line at Evonik.

The addition of amino acids to livestock feeds thus satisfies all sustainability criteria because it takes into account ecological, economic, and social needs: It reduces requirements on fish meal and forage crops and therefore on cultivable land, thus curbing conceivable price increases in meat and fish, and allows production of the high-grade protein required for healthy nutrition of the growing world population.

Conservation of arable land

Addition of amino acids to feeds also conserves existing arable land. The annual global production of methionine (750,000 metric tons in the year 2009), for example, frees up 15 million hectares or 150,000 sq. km. of arable land, an area roughly as large as Tunisia. From 2014 onward, capacity will be boosted by a further 150,000 metric tons of DL-methionine when a new production facility of Evonik Industries, one of the largest producers, comes onstream in Singapore. The company will then have an annual methionine capacity of 580,000 metric tons.

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Further information

* With its life cycle assessment, Evonik Industries is the only producer of amino acids for animal nutrition that has subjected its products—DL-methionine, L-lysine (Biolys®), Lthreonine, and L-tryptophan —to a comparative and comprehensive assessment and has also compared them with alternative raw materials such as soy meal and rapeseed meal. The life cycle assessment has also been certified by TÜV Rheinland as a globally recognized independent expert authority. The certificate testifies that the investigators have taken into accountall environmental impacts meticulously and without bias.