How to: Capture the real value of animal protein

Published on Feb. 24, 2021

How to: Capture the real value of animal protein

Population growth, income growth, urbanization and shifting protein preference will lead to higher animal protein consumption in the next decades. Despite the increasing demand, the livestock sector has been suffering from disruptions, resulting in low financial returns for their efforts. Low returns do not offer a strong incentive for investing in more sustainable food production systems. On the contrary, consolidation drives the industry to stay financially afloat. A higher value for animal protein is part of the solution to drive sustainability at a much higher speed.

How can we show the real value of animal protein?

Why don’t consumers see the real value of animal protein? First, consumer awareness of the true price of animal protein is built on low prices, (ab)used by large retailers to draw in traffic with promotions. The whole animal protein system has been a cost-plus based system for years to ensure food is affordable to eliminate hunger. In no other industry is the total cost of production of a liter of milk, an egg, a kilogram or pound of meat so transparent as in agriculture. The rest of the food chain with the consumer at the end, benefits from this transparency; there is simply no incentive to stop this.

A way to increase the price of animal protein is via regulatory measures, but instead of setting decent price levels, food has been subsidized with (local) governmental money. Or we could start taxing animal protein consumption and give part of the tax to producers. As a result, they could invest in more sustainable methods of production to lower emissions or increase animal welfare. This might work, but how do we agree on this globally without shutting down national borders or installing import tariffs to maintain a level playing field? There is no easy fix to this problem.

What can access to advanced genetics deliver in value?

The introduction of a system of fair prices for animal protein is not easily within reach. What other problems do we encounter that prevent us from solving the bigger picture? From our point of view, and easy to prove, is the inadequate access for the producer to the most suited animal genetics. This is not a story of focus on production output, but a story of the right genetics for the right environment. One size does not fit all. Offspring that needs to perform in a different type of environment than what the parents are selected in, might lead to surprising (read negative) results. Performance testing of siblings or offspring in the environment that the offspring is supposed to perform is necessary to be able to offer the right genetics. We still have so much to gain to enable every individual producer to have the right animal for their system. The right genetics reduces losses, improves productivity, and increases the bottom-line result.

How can we reduce waste and stop destroying value?

Losses at every stage in the animal protein production system influence the value a chain can deliver as output. Inefficiencies and losses in production and consumer behavior all play a role. Let’s dive into the two major contributors: animal losses and inefficiencies.

Animal losses differ per species as well as the resulting economic impact. Animals die, which is a fact of life, but with increased precision in breeding we can reduce deaths significantly. It is a matter of balancing your breeding goals in a different way, but there is also much to gain from improving management practices, more focus on social behavior of animals, and improving housing systems.

Even when an animal survives, it is possible for it to have unrealized genetic potential due to major inefficiencies. Young animals that start strong with good body weight and condition will perform better in converting feed to food. Animals that struggle with disease challenges will not grow or produce as well as stronger, more resilient animals. This represents just the tip of the iceberg, but increased focus on lowering losses and solving inefficiencies will deliver a large part of the solution to a better value for animal protein.

Capturing the true value of animal protein is not an easy task. But starting off right with high quality, tailored genetics can make a huge difference in delivering value for you and for the rest of the chain.

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