Like a motto, sustainability is coming in our ears morning, midday and evening. It’s even there at night when you’re listening to a faraway event that is dealing with the future of the world (like Rio+20).

On one hand, a number of American sustainability extremist groups are against animal farming while European civil servants want non-ruminant processed proteins back in the food chain again, beginning with fish feed (a standing committee will vote on this next month). Technically, it seems accurate to validate such a huge amount of protein. However, many people were traumatized by the Mad Cow crisis in certain European countries and they don’t feel comfortable with that coming back. Would they eat meat if they discovered that animal feed includes animal proteins – even if all technical and scientific proofs are handed to them?

Sustainability is always pointed to as the driver of these decisions.

Animal feed is at a crossroads, its basic meaning is either sustainable (validation of by-products, initially from the home for pig and poultry, complemented by pasture use for cattle) or non-sustainable (competition for food with cereals, sanitary risks, images of farming animals).

Excessive use of the word sustainability confuses the issue. For example, look at the use of formaldehyde for cattle feed. Once it was hailed as a great advance when it was developed by Inra (French institute of agronomical research) as the best way to produce by-passed proteins for ruminants. It had good validation, it was more efficient and offered less waste and pollution; everything seemed wonderful.

However, formaldehyde (Biocide TP20 for European registration) is not a harmless raw material and might endanger feed plant employees if it is not handled with care and protection. So, the biocide European law project says that “(23) As products used for the preservation of food or feed by the control of harmful organisms previously covered by product type 20 [of 98/8/EC], are covered by Reg 1831/2003 and Reg (EC) 1333/2008, it is not appropriate to maintain that product type.”

This means that quite soon, we might have to deal with finding a replacement for this treatment. Hopefully, feed suppliers have already thought about this. Some alternatives are on the market – chestnut tanin and several essential oils are on the starting blocs and seem useful. Quite sustainable isn’t it?