Sustainable food production is the greatest global challenge we face

A growing world population means growing demand for food. Feeding so many people is a global challenge that requires more sustainable food production.

Why sustainable food production is so important

The United Nations projects the world population will reach a staggering 9.7 billion people by 2050 – over 25 percent more than in 2020. With a growing population comes a growing demand for food, particularly protein.

At the same time, we are grappling with the global threats of climate change, water scarcity, and biodiversity loss. Meat, dairy, and seafood production is already a resource-intensive process – so how do we produce more protein while reducing our environmental impact?

Evonik sees the task of feeding generations to come as a challenge. A global food challenge that requires more sustainable food production.

The United Nations (UN) reports that “After decades of steady decline, the number of people who suffer from hunger – as measured by the prevalence of undernourishment – began to slowly increase again in 2015.” As things stand, too many emerging and developing countries will not be able to meet the UN Sustainable Development Goal (SDG2) of zero hunger by 2030.

As incomes increase, demand for high-quality animal protein will increase. But farming already puts immense pressure on the environment and natural resources.

Livestock production causes 14.5 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions, requires around 33 percent of global arable land for animal feed crops and produces a third  of global nitrogen emissions. If we are to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees, we must make agriculture more efficient and achieve more sustainable food production. Ultimately, we must produce more with less.

Click here to learn more about our solutions for sustainable food production.

Animal nutrition has a major influence on the environmental impact of livestock production

The good news is that we have never been better placed to understand the science of food production and its impact on the environment. We are continuing to get a more and more detailed understanding of livestock’s nutritional needs.

This has allowed us to develop feed additives, probiotics and management systems that improve the health and performance of farm animals. Targeted feed supplements promote sustainable food production by making land use more efficient, reducing the need for deforestation and monoculture, maintaining biodiversity, and reducing fertilizer and freshwater use. Our precision farming solutions not only enhance growth and animal health but also reduce reliance on natural resources.

Our nutrition and farm management solutions enhance sustainability performance – and we can prove the benefits. For more than 20 years, we have used LCA (lifecycle assessment) to measure and optimize the sustainability impacts of our nutritional solutions, from cradle to grave. Our raw material suppliers must comply with sustainability initiatives such as the ‘Together for Sustainability’ program (TfS).

Want to know more about lifecycle assessment? Then, click here.

Our solutions for sustainable food production

Not all varieties of meat carry the same environmental burden. Poultry and aquaculture products provide protein very efficiently and have low carbon footprints. Helping consumers understand this can allow them to make more informed sustainable choices when deciding what to eat.

As an industry, we can make achievable changes to improve the balance. For example:

  • By using specialty feed additives such as MetAMINO® (DL-Methionine) for targeted nutrition in animal feed, we can reduce water demand and land use.
  • Fish farming and aquaculture has expanded, but there is still an overreliance on wild-caught fish for feed. By using more sustainable aquaculture solutions, including plant-based feed materials and ingredients which are enriched with supplemental feed additives, fish farmers could vastly increase production per unit of land and water. This would also help reduce overfishing of the world’s oceans.
  • Beef farming generates six times more greenhouse gas emissions per unit of protein than pork, chicken, or egg production. Shifting just a fifth of future global beef consumption to other animal protein sources could spare hundreds of millions of hectares of land.

There is no single solution when it comes to feeding future generations. Governments, NGOs, academics, and businesses along the value chain will all need to work together on a global scale. However, if we all contribute in our own way, humankind can overcome one of the biggest threats we face. The challenge of feeding growing populations is surmountable. 

More examples

A proven solution for making animal-based protein more sustainable is to boost animal feed’s nutritional value through amino acid supplementation. That way, you need fewer crops to provide the same nutritional output. For poultry, the most deficient amino acid is methionine. If this amino acid is added through MetAMINO® (DL-Methionine), the feed conversion rate and nutritional profile improve. Chickens are healthier, excrete less nitrogen, and need less crude protein in their diets, reducing the quantity of soy, wheat or corn required to feed them.

Targeted supplementation of amino acids can reduce soy requirements by at least 15 percent for poultry producers and almost completely replace it in pork production. The net result could be a reduction in the amount of land used for soybean cultivation of some 6 million hectares – or one and a half times the area of Switzerland.

There is an ongoing debate about the environmental impacts of farming and intensive livestock production.

The animal nutrition industry is uniquely placed to improve animal health, food quality and performance on sustainability outcomes.

Through lifecycle assessment, we can demonstrate exactly how our products reduce GHG (greenhouse-gas) emissions, water use and nutrient losses while improving animal feed's nutritional profile.

The life cycle assessment methodology is an international scientific standard to measure the environmental impacts of technical production processes. At Evonik Animal Nutrition, we use lifecycle assessments to calculate the performance improvements gained from our supplemental amino acids versus the industry standard.

Several independent life cycle assessments show that the supplementation of amino acids in animal feed results in better animal health and reduced demand for feed crops. This in turn reduces land use, water use and GHG (greenhouse-gas) emissions. The worldwide use of more than 900,000 metric tons of methionine can save some 20 million hectares of crop land, which is the size of Belarus or Senegal.

It is clear that we can balance the growing need for feed and food production while reducing our impact on the environment.

Significantly reducing the environmental impact of livestock operations

These are just a few examples of measures that can be realized with today’s technology and resources. At Evonik Animal Nutrition, we are supporting the livestock industry to make significant progress by fighting climate change, safeguarding ecosystems, and ensuring health & well-being as it works to achieve sustainable food production.