In a response to market demands, Netherlands-based ForFarmers N.V. has begun producing soy-free animal feed for layers, broilers, dairy and beef cattle, and sheep.
While acknowledging that soy-free feeds are more expensive to produce and may result in a larger carbon footprint, Nick Major, ForFarmers corporate affairs director, says societal concerns and pressures have influenced the company’s decision.
“There are societal concerns and pressures on soy and therefore we’ve been asked by some customers and supply chain partners whether it is possible to formulate diets that either reduce or exclude soy products,” Major said in a phone interview with WATT Global Media. “It’s possible to do and achieve the same performance. But it adds costs to the diets, and has disadvantages in terms of environmental footprint.”
Along with a larger carbon footprint, those disadvantages include higher phosphate emissions and more land requirements to grow raw materials. ForFarmers is using a combination of other European-grown raw materials such as rapeseed meal and sunflower meal to replace soy.
Soy usage, imports in Europe
Europe uses – and imports – large quantities of soy, and there are concerns around the sustainability of soy sourcing. The EU imports more than 30 million tons of soy each year — 13 tons of soybeans and 21 million tons of soybean meal.
“Soy ... has a great protein content and amino acid profile, so it’s not surprising that Europe uses large quantities of soy, and that’s going to continue,” Major said. But reducing or eliminating soy from animal diets will result in higher costs.
Soy-free diets possible
“Providing laying hens with a soy-free diet is possible, but alternative, more expensive, sources of protein are needed in order for the animals to maintain the same performance levels,” said ForFarmers Innovation Manager Albert Dijkslag in a press release.
The company said achieving the same performance levels in broilers is more challenging, as broilers need higher levels of quality protein than layers. Dairy, beef and sheep producers can compile soy-free diets by growing more protein-rich roughage themselves and supplementing this with soy-free sources of protein, ForFarmers said.
“Relative costs depend on market dynamics for feed materials. Soy is highly economic raw material, so reducing it adds costs,” he said. “Those additional costs can be recovered by the supply chain or paid by the consumer. Ultimately, the consumer needs to pay more.”
Major said that, while the demand for soy-free feeds is not mainstream, there are some retailers and consumers who will pay more for products from animals fed a soy-free diet.
“We’re a market-driven industry. We respond to the signals and requirements of our downstream partners,” he said. “You have to respond to societal concerns, and that’s what we’re trying to do.”
ForFarmers uses the Soy Sourcing Guidelines released in September 2015 by the European Compound Feed Manufacturers’ Federation (FEFAC). Major said ForFarmers has a commitment to move to 100 percent responsibly sourced soy by 2020.