25 May 2021

Methodological exploration by Blonk and DSM

The applicability of LCA guidelines to model the effects of feed additives on the environmental footprint of animal production

Robust assessment of the environmental footprint of animal products is essential to support and monitor efforts to reduce both the emissions intensity and resource demands associated with their production. Feed additives have the potential to confer environmental benefits in their use to support animal productivity, animal health, lifetime performance or even direct environmental benefits. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Livestock Environmental Assessment and Performance (LEAP) Partnership established various harmonized methods to assess the environmental footprint of livestock. This includes specific guidelines applicable to feed additives.

Together with DSM we set up a methodological study, by way of road testing, to explore the applicability of sector Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) guidelines, such as FAO LEAP and European Commission Product Environmental Footprint (EC PEF). In APS-footprint we modeled the nutritional interventions, specifically the use of feed additives, and explored the effects. The study was externally reviewed by experts, according to the ISO 14044 LCA guidelines.

Set up of the study

For this study 14 nutritional interventions have been selected, including the use of feed enzymes, vitamins, carotenoids and eubiotics. Furthermore, the study focusses on three terrestrial target species: broiler chickens, dairy cows, and fattening pigs. The reference systems were Dutch and Belgian. The nutritional interventions, along with the FAO LEAP guidelines for feed additives, were documented through an extensive literature review and further translated into potential environmental effects observable at farm level.
Finally, the study has been reviewed externally and complies to the ISO 14044 LCA guidelines.

Using sector guidelines to evaluate environmental performance

Our methodological exploration verifies the applicability of sector LCA guidelines to evaluate nutritional interventions improving animal productivity, health, lifetime performance and emissions. Overall, the study confirms the potential of nutritional interventions, and feed additives in particular, to improve the footprint of animal production. Nevertheless, we also concluded that more detailed guidance and more consistency between the guidelines would be helpful. This ‘road testing’ study identified areas where the existing guidelines should be made more specific to provide more robust LCA outcomes. This was for instance the case in accounting variability and uncertainty when translating complex zootechnical dynamics into an LCA model. This also occurred in resolving changes in the production and composition of manure leaving the farm and for modelling nutritional interventions that act on product quality and following stages in the value chain. Furthermore, the study highlights the crucial role of feed formulations in determining estimated impacts. The way these dilemmas are managed by LCA experts may affect the outcome to a large extent, and therefore the need for clearer guidance.

About APS-footprint

For this study we used the APS-footprint tool. APS-footprint is an exciting new tool of Blonk Sustainability Tools. It is a software solution that helps stakeholders in the animal production value chain defining and monitoring more sustainable animal production systems and reduce their environmental impact.
It includes complete life cycle assessment (LCA) functionality and generates comprehensible results. These results can be used for research & development, monitoring innovations, CSR or sustainability reporting and communication. APS-footprint enables to calculate environmental impacts compliant to internationally recognized standards, such as the FAO LEAP guidelines and the EU PEFCRs on red meat and dairy. The ISO 14040/44 are used as the generic framework of the methodology, ensuring consistency on a worldwide level.

Environmental effects of feed additives

In general, the study confirmed that the use of feed additives has a positive impact for the entire lifecycle. Except in one case, for a product with a high inclusion rate, the environmental impact of feed additive production can be considered as very low compared to the positive impacts that they provide. The assessment showed it can lead to a 10% improvement (cumulative effect for some impacts and some species). Feed additives are helpful in reducing the environmental footprint of livestock, since they can improve productivity and reduce specific emissions at the same time. The study provides evidence for the need to integrate the environmental footprint of ingredients as an optimization criterion, rather than as a calculated outcome. In this way the potential of feed additives and other feed solutions to minimize the environmental impact can be fully captured. Furthermore, it demonstrates the significance of the contribution of pythase to abate phosphorus and nitrogen related impacts on farm. Finally, feed additive solutions supporting the lifetime performance of the animals (longevity, fertility, health status) also indicate a potential for environmental impact mitigation. More sophisticated modelling of herd/flock dynamics, than we used now, could improve the estimates of environmental potential here.

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Get in touch

Hans Blonk
Managing Director

If you have any questions about this study, or would you like to know more about APS-footprint, please contact Hans Blonk.